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Hooghly Internet Shutdown to end tomorrow, State tells Calcutta HC; Court asks State to justify shutdown in the first place [Read Order]

"State shall file two affidavits, one pertaining to jurisdiction of the District Magistrate to pass the impugned suspension order and the other pertaining to justifiability of the suspension order", states the order.

Bar & Bench

The State of West Bengal today told the Calcutta High Court that there would be no further extension of the internet shutdown ordered recently in Hooghly following communal violence in the area.

The shutdown is scheduled to end tomorrow, and orders imposing the same would be revoked tomorrow since the situation is under control, the State has informed.

In this regard, the order passed by the Court reads,

"... the learned Advocate General has also submitted that he has written instruction that the order of suspension of internet service, which is operational till May 17, 2020, will not be required to be extended further in view of the improved law and order situation in the area in question."
Calcutta High Court order

All the same, the Court has directed the State of West Bengal to file two affidavits before the Court by the next hearing explaining how and why the internet shut down was imposed. In this regard, the order states,

"The State shall file two separate affidavits, one pertaining to jurisdiction of the District Magistrate to pass the impugned suspension order and the other pertaining to justifiability of the suspension order."
Calcutta High Court

A special Bench of Chief Justice Thottathil B Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee had convened to hold a special hearing on Saturday morning to hear PILs challenging the May 12 order to snap internet services in Hooghly.

This includes petitions moved 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." Tibrewal's PIL is broader in scope, with one of the prayers being to restore the internet services suspended by the May 12 order.

Appearing for the State of West Bengal, the Advocate General Kishore Dutta today argued that all procedural safeguards prescribed under the Telecom Suspension Rules were followed while directing the internet shut down.

Countering SLFC.in's contentions on this point, the State also claimed that the District Magistrate, being in the rank of Additional Secretary, had the authority to direct the internet shutdown through the issuance of orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).

The SLFC.in has, however, disputed this and was given permission by the High Court to file a statement to counter the same.

SFLC.in’s Legal Director Prasanth Sugathan had argued that internet suspension powers via Section 144, CrPC were beyond the powers of the District Magistrate under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules.

Inter alia, the SLFC.also submitted that the internet is a lifeline in a pandemic situation enabling people to work, access health care, for students to access educational resources and for access to justice. In this regard, their petition highlights, "An internet shutdown during a pandemic is a violation of Fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution of India."

Tibrewal today pointed out that recently, the Supreme Court has emphasised that orders passed to restrict the internet under the Telecom Suspension Rules should be placed before a Review Committee.

When queried over whether such a review committee was formed before the internet shut down was imposed, the State appraised the Court that it is revoking the shutdown tomorrow since the situation has now been brought under control.

Tibrewal's plea also calls for a time-bound independent investigation into the communal disharmony and mob violence that took place on May 12. She pointed out that no relief had been given to the victims of the violence and that FIRs were yet to be registered over the violence.

The Court has now posted the matter for further hearing on May 22, Friday, by when the State is file its affidavits on the issue.

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.

Read the Order:

Order STFL.pdf
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