JAIPUR: The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has shot off a letter to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to discourage states, particularly Rajasthan, from diluting the laws governing temporary suspension of Telecom services and issuing orders for shutdown of internet and data services.
In its letter dated August 8, the representative body for Telecom service providers pointed out that, as per rules, the direction to suspend internet services can be given only by the home secretary, and in unavoidable circumstances, by officials not below the rank of joint secretary. But the Rajasthan government has repeatedly watered down these provisions in 2017 by delegating the powers to divisional commissioners.
53 times data blackouts since Feb ’18
Since February this year, orders for net and data blackout have been issued 53 times in Rajasthan, adversely impacting the Centre’s Digital India Mission. The frequent “misuse” has caused grave hardship to the public by depriving them of services like net banking, online train and flight ticket booking and security and surveillance services.
The COAI said that in Rajasthan the shutdowns are ordered to conduct exams, which do not warrant a public emergency or safety situation.
“It appears that no other alternative measures are being taken at the examination centres by the invigilating authorities to restrict usage of mobile phones during the examinations except to issue orders for suspension of internet services,” COAI said in the letter.
Areport by Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) in April this year revealed that internet shutdown of 16,315 hours (close to two years) between 2012-17 has caused a loss of $3 billion to India affecting ecommerce, IT services, tourism, etc. The blackouts also impacted small businesses, local shops, schools, hospitals and other sectors. Urging DOT secretary Aruna Sundararajan to address the issue with state governments, the letter said in adverse circumstances, the first step that Rajasthan government has taken is to suspend internet services resulting in more than 140 orders since August 2017.