Calcutta HC stays Bengal government's decision to suspend internet services in several districts

  • Gargi Chaterjee
  • 12:36 PM, 11 Mar 2022

The Calcutta High Court has ordered a stay on the temporary internet shut down announced by the state government in several districts of the state. 

The government by a notification under Sec. 144 of CrPC had announced a complete internet shutdown in the districts of Coochbehar, Malda, Murshidabad, Birbhum, Uttar Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling citing information received of unlawful activities taking place.

The Bench of Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Rajarshi Bharadwaj was hearing a public interest litigation filed by a digital literacy fellow at Internet Freedom Foundation contending that such ban is contrary to the Supreme Court decision in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India, where it was held that a shutdown cannot be announced under general powers under S. 144 CrPC.

The petitioner has further alluded that the notification comes dangerously close to Madhyamik examinations and that the state might have taken the decision to avoid mass cheating and leakage of exam papers. In such a case, the student themselves are being adversely affected as they need to attend classes and access study material off of the internet. 

The petitioner further contended that under the Telegraph Act and Telecom Suspension Rules, internet shut down can only be done for public emergency or public safety. The petitioner further submitted that the state has failed to properly publish such notification as is required under law. The petition also pointed out that no specific ground have been cited for such a decision as required under the 'principle of proportionality.'

Yesterday, the bench had sought the government's response in the matter. 

The government's response revealed that a communication was sent by the President, West Bengal Board to discontinue internet services during Madhyamik Pariksha on the ground that in the previous examinations in 2019 and 2020 some WhatsApp groups or Tiktok App had adopted unfair means and 19 examinees were caught with mobile phones in the hall in Bagdogra.

However, the bench rejected such contention noting that the State has various other means available to prevent use of unfair means in the Madhyamik Examination and that the prima-facie test of proportionality is not satisfied. 

The Court thus stayed the government order until further orders. 

Ashlesh Biradar v. State of West Bengal