The Government of India issued a notification on 8 August that specifies who can order a temporary suspension of telecommunication services in any part of the country. Titled ‘Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017’, the notification was issued by the Department of Telecom (DoT) under the Indian Telegraph Act 1885.
According to the notification, telecommunication services cannot be suspended by anyone except the secretary to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) at the central and state levels.
However, in the absence of a secretary, a joint secretary to the centre who has been authorised by either the MHA or the state’s home ministry may issue the order.
The notification has specified that no officer junior to the joint secretary can issue the order and that the joint secretary himself can do it only in the absence of the secretary.
The notification thus effectively centralises who can issue such orders.
It further states that: The order would then be passed on to the requisite departments in order to be put into effect, and failure to receive a response from a competent authority within 24 hours would effectively render the order null and void.
All such orders would have to be passed on to a review committee along with the department and would have to explain why the order is being passed.
The suspension orders would then be forwarded either in writing or electronically to designated officers of the telegraph authority or officers of service providers by either the Superintendent of Police or someone of a higher rank. Telecom providers would have to designate officers in different areas to handle these requests.
If the order has been issued by the centre, the review committee set up would be chaired by the Cabinet Secretary and have the Secretary to the Government of India In-Charge, Legal Affairs and Secretary to the Government, DoT, as its members.
If the order has been issued by a state, the review committee set up would be chaired by the Chief Secretary and have the Secretary Law or Legal Remembrancer In-Charge, Legal Affairs and Secretary to the state government (other than the Home Secretary) as its members.
The committee would have to meet within five days of the order being issued and deliberate whether the suspension is in accordance with the Telegraph Act.
Internet shutdowns and suspensions have been criticised for causing revenue losses. The Software Freedom Law Center stated in a report that each shutdown causes a revenue loss of approximately Rs 148 crore to businesses.