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Farmers' Protest: Modi Government Used British-Era Law to Give Itself Powers to Suspend Internet

This time the Union government suspended internet within the jurisdiction of 20 police stations in Patiala, SAS Nagar, Bathinda, Sri Mukhtsar Sahib, Mansa, Sangrur and Fatehgarh Sahib.
Farmers protesting in Rajpura railway station in Punjab. Photo: Special Arrangement

New Delhi: The legislation invoked by the Union government to give itself powers to block internet services in Punjab last week as farmers prepared to launch their protest, is a British-era law, The Hindu has reported.

On the context of “public emergency” and “public safety”, the Narendra Modi government invoked its powers under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017 of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, to suspend internet within the jurisdiction of 20 police stations in Patiala, SAS Nagar, Bathinda, Sri Mukhtsar Sahib, Mansa, Sangrur and Fatehgarh Sahib since last week, as per the report.

It is noteworthy that a Punjab government official confirmed to The Hindu that the Union government had the power to issue such orders under the Rules and that the Punjab government had not objected it. Meanwhile, the BJP-ruled Haryana government issued orders to suspend internet services in that particular state.

In its report submitted on December 2021, the parliamentary standing committee on communications and information technology had observed that internet shutdowns have implications on national economy, freedom of press, education and healthcare services.  “Under the 2017 Rules, telecom/internet shutdowns may be ordered on grounds of public emergency and public safety. Public emergency and public safety have not been defined in the 1885 Act or the 2017 Rules,” the Shashi Tharoor-led parliamentary committee report added.

Over a dozen accounts on X (formerly called Twitter) and Facebook which functioned as official pages of farmers’ organisations and unions ahead of their ‘Delhi Chalo’ protest have been withheld in India seemingly upon government request.

Also read: ‘Agenda Is to Silence Us’: Key Social Media Accounts Withheld, Farmers Vow to Boycott Centre’s Meetings

X accounts and Facebook pages of prominent farmer leaders like Sarvan Singh Pandher, the coordinator of Kisan Mazdoor Morcha (KMM), Tejveer Singh Ambala, the spokesperson of BKU (Shaheed Bhagat Singh), farmer leader Ramandeep Singh Mann, Surjit Singh Phull from BKU Krantikari, farmer leader Harpal Sangha, Ashok Danoda from Haryana and many others have been withheld.

The officials official pages which supported the movement and posted updates on it – such as  @Tractor2twitr_P run by Bhavjit Singh, Bhartiya Kisan Union (Shaheed Bhagat Singh) and Progressive Farmers Front, run by Guramneet Singh Mangat – are also banned by the government. BKU (SBS) is one of the main farmer unions which was leading the farmers’ protest from Ambala, Haryana. ‘Gaon Sawera’, a page run by independent journalist Mandeep Punia and his personal page has been withheld. Punia was arrested during the 2021 farmers’ protests.

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