Plea in Supreme Court challenges ‘mechanical’ internet blackout in Manipur

The petition said the government has declared that the State was returning to normalcy, and that the shutdown infringes upon the constitutional right to access the internet

June 05, 2023 05:46 pm | Updated 06:22 pm IST - NEW DELHI


File. | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

A petition was filed in the Supreme Court against the mechanical and repeated shutdown of internet in Manipur even after an “admitted de-escalation” in violence and clashes across the State.

The plea filed by Chongtham Victor Singh, an advocate with the Manipur High Court, said the shutdown infringes upon the constitutional right to access the internet.

Also read | Three-member Commission of Inquiry to probe ethnic violence in Manipur

“The shutdown order is grossly disproportionate in its interference with the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to carry on any trade or business using the constitutionally protected medium of the internet,” the petition, filed through advocate Shadan Farasat, submitted.

The petition said the government has declared that the State was returning to normalcy.

However, the State, on the other hand, mechanically continued to extend the internet shutdown. So far, the shutdown has been extended over five times, between May 3 and May 26, “effectively resulting in an indefinite shutdown of the internet”.

Also read | Curfew in eight districts of Manipur, mobile internet services suspended over tribal stir

The shutdown order merely stated a threat to law and order. The State had reasoned that anti-social elements may use social media to spread rumours and incite the public.

The shutdown orders do not divulge a protracted risk or emergency to public safety.

Four of the suspension orders on May 3, May 4, May 7 and May 21 were not reviewed by the Review Committee, the petition claimed.

“Orders have been repeatedly issued in a cyclostyled format, reflecting a clear non-application of mind on the part of the State,” the petition said.

The petition cited the court’s judgment in Anuradha Bhasin case, which dealt with the internet blackout in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370, which had upheld the need for authorities to “proactively publish the shutdown orders as a measure of transparency and accountability”.

The plea said the shutdown in Manipur have severely affected livelihoods.

It has had a “significant economic, humanitarian, social and psychological impact” within the State. Children have been unable to attend school. People have not been able to access funds from banks, receive payments from clients, distribute salaries or communicate via email or WhatsApp.

The shutdown was imposed after clashes, violence, widespread arson and killings followed a High Court order to include the Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribe category.

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