Manipur marginally lifts Internet curbs; ban on mobile data continues

State Home Department order comes after hearing in Manipur High Court which had directed resumption of leased lines

Updated - July 25, 2023 11:49 pm IST

Published - July 25, 2023 06:27 pm IST - Imphal

Though the Manipur government has restored the broadband services after nearly three months after it was banned, the mobile internet services are yet to be restored. File

Though the Manipur government has restored the broadband services after nearly three months after it was banned, the mobile internet services are yet to be restored. File | Photo Credit: Reuters

After an 83-day Internet shutdown in Manipur, the State government marginally eased the restrictions on July 25, albeit under strict conditions.

Mobile Internet will continue to remain banned in the State over fears that spread of disinformation and rumours could trigger further unrest, according to the order issued by the State’s Home Department. 

The conditions include ban on WiFi and VPN (Virtual Private Network) use; deletion of social media applications; a requirement to fill out undertakings assuming liability for “secondary” users on a network; and users being subjected to ”physical monitoring” to check for violations.

In the order, Manipur Home Commissioner T. Ranjit Singh said the State government has decided to lift the suspension of broadband services (Internet leased line or ILL and fibre to the home or FTTH) “in a liberalised manner” subject to the fulfilment of 10 conditions.

According to data by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, all seven States in the northeast put together have around 2.23 lakh wired Internet subscriptions. No specific data is available for Manipur, which has over 28 lakh residents, as per the 2011 Census.

High Court directive

On July 7, the Manipur High Court directed the State to resume all ILL connections. The State government then appealed to the Supreme Court against the HC order.

However, after a hearing in the High Court on Tuesday, the government ordered that all broadband connections be restored. During the hearing, the government first sought more time to restore connections phase-wise but halfway through, it decided to issue the order.

Special Government counsel Rarry Mangsatabam told The Hindu, “We submitted in the first half of the hearing that we would like to take more time to resume ILLs phase-wise. But in the second half, I received instructions that an order is being issued and it was issued after the hearing was concluded.”

Editorial | Overkill: On the Internet shutdown in Manipur

A detailed order from Tuesday’s hearing has not yet been made public. 

In the Home Department order, Mr. Singh said the State government reviewed the Internet ban since May 3 without any break (except for the exempted cases) and considered the suffering of the common people to arrive at the decision. 

While wired (broadband) connections have been allowed by the Manipur government for the time being, the specific condition that users must use a so-called ‘static’ IP address might still restrict access for many. Static IP addresses are a scarce resource, generally only provided to businesses who get dedicated ‘leased line’ connections with higher prices and standards of service. 

Other conditions include users ensuring that all social media applications and Virtual Private Network (VPN) services are deleted from the devices, changing the login ID and password for each system every day, and making Internet service providers (ISPs) take responsibility for securing undertakings from each of their users. 

Apprehension of unrest

The order said that the State government decided to continue suspending mobile Internet data as there are still apprehensions that the spread of disinformation and rumours through various social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter could lead to further unrest.  

The use of electronic equipment such as tablets, computers, and mobile phones, bulk SMS and other messages can facilitate or mobilise mobs of agitators and demonstrators, which can cause loss of life or damage to public and private property by indulging in arson and vandalism and other types of violent activities for which the control mechanism is still poor, it said. 

Conditions impractical, say service providers

Some ISPs in Manipur that may not be equipped with this level of control over their users’ connections have expressed concerns about micromanaging their users’ behaviour, as the order envisages.

An ISP operator from Manipur speaking to The Hindu on condition of anonymity said some of the conditions may not be practical, such as the ban on WiFi. “Users can just switch WiFi back on” after it is turned off under the Internet provider’s supervision, the official said.

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