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"An internet shutdown during a pandemic is a violation of Fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution", states the plea moved by the Software Freedom Law Center India (SLFC.in).
The Calcutta High Court is scheduled to convene a special hearing on Saturday, May 16 to hear a challenge to the orders of the authorities to snap internet services on May 12 in Hooghly following communal violence in the area.
Two petitions have been moved in this regard, one by the Software Freedom Law Center India (SFLC.in) and another by an Advocate, Priyanka Tibrewal.
The SFLC.in has challenged the suspension of internet services in Hooghly, West Bengal as "arbitrary and illegal" in a petition filed under Article 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India. Tibrewal's PIL is broader in scope, with one of the prayers being to restore the internet services presently suspended by the May 12 order.
After the petition was moved on May 14, the Bench of Chief Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee took up the matter for hearing via video conferencing on Friday.
SFLC.in’s Legal Director Prasanth Sugathan argued before the Court. The orders to suspend the internet in the subdivisions of the Hooghly district were passed by the District Magistrate under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
SLFC.in has contended that the same is beyond the District Magistrate's jurisdiction. The Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules notified in 2017 is the special law which governs this issue, it was further argued.
The orders of the District Magistrate are also against the principles laid down by the Supreme Court in the case of Anuradha Bhasin vs Union of India, the petitioner organisation argued. The importance of access to internet during the pandemic is also highlighted by the petitioner.
An allied submission is made in Tibrewal's plea, wherein it is stated, "the shutting down of the internet facility in such areas of the district, particularly at a time when the nation is working and studying from home through internet in guise of reasonable restriction until May 17, 2020 is not tenable in law."
This issue apart, Tibrewal has also urged the Court to issue directions for a time-bound independent investigation into the communal disharmony and mob violence that took place on May 12.
On May 12, violent clashes erupted in the Tantipara, Segunbagan, Telenipara areas of the city of Sheteshwar in the Hooghly district of West Bengal. On the same day, the District Magistrate invoked Section 144, CrPC and ordered for the suspension of internet services in Serampore and Chandennagore subdivisions.
The same was done without any advance notice to the citizens, the SLFC.in claims and points out that this suspension is scheduled to end on May 17 at 5PM, six days after its imposition.
The petitioner has prayed to the Court to quash these orders passed by the DM on the grounds that the same are contrary to the procedure established under the law.
Owing to the urgent nature of the matter, the Division Bench has convened a special hearing of the matter on Saturday, May 16 and has asked the Advocate General of the State of West Bengal to reply to the arguments raised by the Petitioner.