The West Bengal Government today assured the Calcutta High Court that Internet Shutdown in Hooghly district will not be extended further.
The bench today had convened a special sitting today at 11 am to hear a plea filed by Software Freedom Law Center India (SFLC.in) seeking “relief against the arbitrary and illegal suspension of Internet services in Chandannagar and Sereampore sub divisions in the Hoogly District of West Bengal owing to communal riots in the area.”
Advocate General appearing for the State Government submitted that all procedural safeguards prescribed under Telecom Suspension Rules were followed in ordering the shutdown and the District Magistrate is a competent authority to declare the shutdown as he is of the rank of Additional Secretary.
The Counsel appearing for the petitioner submitted that the Internet is a lifeline in a pandemic situation enabling people to work, access health care, a medium for students to access educational resources and a medium to access justice .
It was further submitted by the petitioner that shutting down the Internet itself violates the principles of proportionality as laid down by the Supreme Court in Anuradha Bhasin vs Union of India. Moreover the shutdown order was not published and no ‘unavoidable’ reason was mentioned in the order necessitating a shutdown.
The petitioner argued that Under the Telecom Suspension Rules 2017, a state shutdown can only be ordered by a Secretary, Home Department of the State and in unavoidable circumstances by a person not below the rank of a joint secretary to the Government of India which has to be ratified by the competent authority within 24 hours.
On being questioned by the Advocate General on the locus of the petitioner in filing the case, Prasanth Sugathan, Legal Director of SFLC.in and appearing on behalf of the Society submitted that “SFLC.in has been actively engaged in tracking shutdowns in the country and has been contacted by aggrieved citizens.”
The division bench comprising Chief Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee has directed the state government to file its reply and the matter has been listed for next hearing on May 22.
-India Legal Bureau