Telecom operators body Cellular Operators Association of India on Thursday urged telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan to address the issue of frequent suspension of internet services by state governments, especially Rajasthan, which has suspended such services for more than 140 times in the last one year. “We believe frequent suspension of internet services is not warranted, until and unless public emergency or public safety is impacted and hence such frequent misuse causes grave hardships to the public at large and the general public is deprived of all the digital services,” COAI director general Rajan S Mathews said in a letter to Sundararajan.
Quoting from an ICRIER report of April 2018, Mathews said between 2012 and 2017, internet shutdowns of 16,315 hours caused a loss of $3.04 billion, or around Rs 87,000 crore, to the country, with sectors like e-commerce, press, media, IT services, tourism,
etc being impacted by these blackouts.
The Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017 stipulates that direction for suspension of internet services can only be given by home secretary, and in unavoidable circumstances where prior permission is not feasible, such direction may be issued by an officer not below the rank of joint secretary. This order too requires home secretary’s approval within 24 hours.
“It has been observed that certain state governments have diluted the instructions, such as the home department of Rajasthan, which has delegated these powers to their officers in the field – divisional commissioners – and hence all such orders for suspension of internet services are being issued by respective divisional commissioners,” COAI said.
“Further, if the quantum of such orders after these rules were published in the gazette in August 2017 are seen, almost more than 140 such orders have been issued in the state of Rajasthan till date, thereby directing for suspension of internet services,” the association pointed out.
This substantiates the fact that Rajasthan suspends internet services at a very high frequency at various locations in the state, which clearly indicate that in any adverse circumstances, the first step being taken by local authorities is to suspend internet services, COAI said.
“Moreover, of late orders for suspension of internet services in the state of Rajasthan were given during various examinations like eligibility exam for teachers 2018, police constable recruitment and state & subordinate services exam, and it is believed that no such public emergency is warranted in conducting such examinations that calls for suspension of internet services,” COAI said.
COAI urged Sundararajan to take up the issue with the state governments, especially Rajasthan, to follow the rules while ordering for suspension of internet services.