The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused an urgent hearing to a plea challenging the internet shutdown in parts of Rajasthan to curb cheating in competitive examinations. A bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha disagreed with Advocate Vishal Tiwari, who told the court that the internet shutdown 'adversely' impacted the functioning of courts.
“We will not hear this on Friday. We will keep it after the (Holi) vacation,” the bench said. The PIL was filed by one Chhaya Rani and sought framing of guidelines for implementing the government’s order on internet shutdown. Tiwari, in his submissions before the top court, sought an urgent hearing in this matter on March 3.
The petition also sought implementation of the guidelines on internet shutdowns issued by the Supreme Court in the judgement rendered in the Anuradha Bhasin case.
In the Anuradha Bhasin Vs Union of India case, pertaining to the internet shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir following the scrapping of Article 370, the apex court had ruled that an undefined restriction of internet services is illegal and orders for internet shutdown must satisfy the tests of necessity and proportionality.
“The internet shutdown order was passed to minimise the chances of cheating or copying in the examination. This shows the incompetence of the state government and Rajasthan Public Service Commission. The apprehension of cheating and malpractice is vague and arbitrary,” the petition said.
There was no evidence that the imposition of the internet shutdown would achieve the purpose of preventing “cheating and malpractice” in the examination, it said and added that the imposition had, in turn, "affected the citizens at large and has impacted the access to justice, right to carry the profession, and right to freedom of speech and expression through the internet".
The Ashok Gehlot-led government in Rajasthan had shut down internet services in several districts from February 25 to February 28 in view of a competitive examination for recruitment of school teachers.
This comes a day after India topped the global list of internet shutdowns in democracies -- with 84 shutdowns in 2022 -- for the fifth year in a row, according to a report released by international digital rights organisation Access Now in collaboration with the #KeepItOn coalition.
The report also revealed that authorities disrupted internet access at least 49 times in Jammu and Kashmir alone, including 16 back-to-back orders for three-day-long curfew-style shutdowns in January and February. The shutdowns were usually concerned with the spread of misinformation and incitement to violence, especially during high-profile events such as protests, conflict, school exams, and elections.
Apart from India, Ukraine suffered through 22 shutdowns imposed by the Russian military during its full-scale invasion and occupation. Iran followed with 18 shutdowns, breaking its own annual shutdown record with layers of shutdowns during massive protests around the country, the report said.
(With PTI inputs)