78/2019; 77/2019; 79/2019; 76/2019
Justice Manojit Bhuyan; Justice Soumitra Saikia
FACTS AND BACKGROUND OF THE CASE
In the present-day, internet and social media platforms have gained importance over a period of time. The government’s frequent action of shutting down internet services for one region or another on the ground of ‘Public Safety’ has now become a hindrance in the life of people. Despite recognition of Right to Internet under Article 21 of Indian Constitution, it failed to provide relief to citizens. Due to the widespread protests in regions of north eastern areas, it led to chaotic situation in country, resultantly government was forced to shut down internet services as claimed by government of various states. In the instant case there were four petitioners namely Advocate Banashree Gogoi, Deva Kanya Doley, Randeep Sharma and Journalist Ajit Kumar Bhuyan who filed a Public Interest Litigation to challenge the notifications of Government of State of Assam that suspended the internet services on 11th December 2019. Government banned internet services in 10 of its districts for a complete day and reasoned its action as to stop further protest that may happen due to the newly amended Citizenship Act.
Article 32: The right of every citizen to move to Supreme Court if his/her any fundamental right is violated. Supreme Court can issue writs to any government authority, private authority or private individual for that matter.
Article 226: It provides power to High Court for enforcement of fundamental rights or other legal rights by way of issuing writs to any government authority, private authority or private individual for that matter.
Indian Telegraph Act, 1885: It provides that Indian Government has exclusive jurisdiction over maintain, establishment, operating, licensing and oversight over systems either wired or wireless.
Section 5 (2) Indian Telegraph Act, 1885: It gives authority to governments both at central and state level for preventing of transmission of messaging during a situation of public emergency or for public safety or in the interests of sovereignty, integrity and security of India.
Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety), 2017: It empowers the government to shutdown internet services in any particular region by way of notification based up on public emergency.
Whether the State Government of Assam had enough reasons for contentment of public to justify the further continuation of ban on internet services?
DECISION OF COURT
It was recalled by court that an order dated 17-12-2019 has already been passed, that despite of restoration of normal conditions in state the Government of Assam refused to lift the ban on internet services; this results in freezing the entire working of cities. Due to the problems faced by many locals of state in their day-to-day lives, the Hon’ble Supreme Court passed an order that suggests the state government to restore internet services for fewer hours and to justify their action of continuing suspension. It was contented by petitioner that the term ‘Law and Order’ and term ‘Public order’ have different meanings and State Government is not making any effort for assessing the situation for peaceful ‘Public Order’. Whereas, State Government claimed it reviewed its decision where they put forward those inputs from various agencies and a meeting among State Authorities regarding the issue led to decision’s continuation.
It was argued the restoration of broadband services and lifting of curfew itself shows that ‘grave’ law and order situation has already waved away. Court stated that respondents have no reasons to justify that internet services disrupts law and order situation. Finally, court states that internet services play a major role in lives of people with advancement of Science and Technology, shutting down internet services would only cause further chaos in lives of people. The state government when issued notifications there was reasonable apprehension regarding law and order in society. Law surely does permit suspension of internet services whenever necessary however, in the current situation the State Authorities failed to assess the situation and to justify the continuation of ban on internet services. Court directed the Government of State of Assam to restore internet services on 19-10-2019 at 5.00 P.M. State is free to take any steps for stopping any violence that may take place in the future. The decision by court protects and extends the ambit of an individual Right to Receive and impart information providing no exception to state’s justification for ban. It gives a broad view over the protection of fundamental rights not based on mere apprehension of threat to ‘Public Safety’. The government must have enough reasons for internet shutdowns or for hindrance in way of any fundamental right if it failed to contentment of public for any action that harms one’s fundamental rights, it may suffer consequences.
This case analysis is written by Simran Gulia, currently pursuing BA LLB from Maharaja Agrasen Institute of Management Studies.