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Manipur High Court directs State to restore partial internet services

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The High Court of Manipur has directed the state authorities to ensure restoration of limited internet services in designated places for the convenience of the common man, especially for students trying to enroll with different educational institutes. 

The Division Bench of Justice Ahanthem Bimol Singh and Justice A. Guneswar Sharma instructed network service providers – BSNL, Vodafone, Jio and Idea on June 16 to submit an affidavit to confirm whether after blocking access to social media platforms and ensuring the concerns on the law and order of state authorities, limited internet services could be provided to the public or not.  

The High Court passed the order on a bunch of petitions seeking restoration of internet services in the state. 

Filed by students and other people residing in the state, the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petitions mentioned the hardships being faced by the public in availing urgent and essential services.

The Bench further noted the difficulties faced by the students while trying to enroll with educational institutes since the admission process was currently underway across the country.

The High Court listed the matter for further hearing on June 23. 

The government of Manipur had imposed an indefinite ban on internet services on May 3, following large-scale violence in the state due to clashes between the Meetei/Meitei community and the Kuki tribe.

The internet ban was imposed after the Manipur High Court asked the government to ‘consider’ inclusion of the Meetei/ Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribe list. This led to widespread clashes between tribal and non-tribal communities leading to loss of several lives and damage to property worth crores. 

On June 9, the Supreme Court had refused to grant urgent hearing to a petition challenging the internet shutdown in Manipur.

The Vacation Bench of Justice Aniruddha Bose and Justice Rajesh Bindal stated that the matter was already being heard by the Manipur High Court and that there was no need for a duplicate proceeding.

Appearing for the petitioners before the Apex Court, lawyer Chongtham Victor Singh and businessman Mayengbam James said that despite ‘a clear and admitted de-escalation’ of the situation’, the Manipur government has not taken up the State-wide internet shutdown orders .

The petitioner stated that blocking orders cite law and order and anti-social elements rather than public order, and the latest extensions did not go through the oversight of the Review Committee as necessary in law.

It was further submitted that the orders were grossly disproportionate as they prevented the residents from exercising their fundamental rights of freedom of speech and freedom to carry on trade and occupation.

The PILs said the internet ban did not serve a legitimate goal, and did not have a direct nexus with the purpose of law and order given the ground situation at present.

The notifications on internet ban have not been published on any website or social media and therefore, residents have not been able to make alternative arrangements or challenge such ban, it was submitted.

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