The Supreme Court on July 6 refrained from intervening in a petition challenging the “mechanical and repeated shutdown” of internet services in Manipur, noting that a Division Bench of the Manipur High Court is already hearing the issue and has constituted an expert committee on June 27 to examine the possibility of providing limited internet to the public.
A three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D. Y. Chandrachud said the Supreme Court Collegium has recommended a new Chief Justice for the Manipur High Court and the judge would be in the saddle very soon.
Delhi High Court judge Justice Siddharth Mridul was proposed by the Supreme Court Collegium on July 5 for appointment as Manipur Chief Justice.
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The Bench advised the petitioner, advocate Chongtham Victor Singh, to either intervene in the ongoing proceedings in the High Court or file an independent petition there. The case is listed for hearing in the High Court on July 6.
Advocate Shadan Farasat, appearing for Mr. Singh, said the High Court has not looked into the “proportionality” of such repeated and blanket ban orders and has simply left it to the State government or the committee to find a resolution.
He said that internet ban orders have been passed like clockwork in the past 65 days in the State, which has been rocked by violent clashes between the dominant Meitei community and the Kuki and Zomi tribes.
On June 27, the High Court Division Bench had constituted the expert committee to “find a solution to provide limited internet services to the public by blocking social media networks”.
Chief Justice Chandrachud said it would not be proper for the Supreme Court to intervene when the Division Bench is actively examining the question of internet ban and even formed a committee in the process. Mr. Farasat agreed to withdraw the petition and approach the High Court.
The plea filed by Mr. Singh said the shutdown infringed upon the constitutional right to access the internet.
“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 has submitted.
The petition said the shutdown orders 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,” it had said.
“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 had 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”.