690 Internet Shutdowns In India Since 2012, Kashmir Most Impacted
The number of internet outages in India has increased exponentially in the last decade to 690, of which 101 were imposed in 2021.
So far this year, 75 shutdowns have been imposed, according to the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC), a donor-supported legal services organization that brings together lawyers, policy analysts, technologists and students to protect freedom in the digital world.
According to SFLC.in’s report ‘Let the Network Work: Internet Shutdowns in India 2022‘, the government has shut down the internet 75 times this year for reasons ranging from preventing cheating in exams to combating communal tensions and terrorism.
Regional internet shutdowns in 2022. Kashmir suffered the worst of the internet outages for 522 consecutive days.
SFLC.in, which has been granted special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, has analyzed the impact of internet shutdowns from a human rights and economic perspective, and how it affects access to basic essential services, such as education and healthcare, using its Internet Shutdowns Tracker (IST).
The IST, which is accessible at https://internetshutdowns.in/ and is notably the only real-time database of its kind in the country, documents every internet shutdown since 2012, starting with the first imposed on January 26 in Jammu and Kashmir.
SFLC obtains its information through news and publicly available internet shutdown orders issued by respective state governments. All reports are put through a rigorous cross-verification process by the team to verify their authenticity. It also files routine applications under the Right to Information Act, 2005 to obtain details of shutdowns.
India suffered a loss of $174.6 million this year alone, aaccording to the Top 10VP report for 2022, due to internet shutdowns with long-term shutdowns leading to a drastic impact on people’s livelihoods, directly contributing to job losses, the report said.
The duration of closures.
To study the impact of internet shutdowns on citizens, SFLC.in also maintains empirical records in the form of testimonials by those affected. Through this project, called Lost Voices, Kashmir suffered the worst of the internet outages for 522 consecutive days.
Kashmir, which has lost access to the Internet for more than 18 months, has been the worst hit economically. According to a report by the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, businesses suffered losses worth Rs 40,000 crore from August 5, 2019 to July 2020.
Until November 2020, at least 5,000 salesmen in tourism and mobile services were not paid salaries in August, September and October. Further, 4.96 lakh people lost their jobs in Kashmir.
The Chamber said that the internet shutdown contributed to losses due to the disruption in online shopping and transactions after August 5. Startups, the telecom sector and courier services are among the worst hit businesses in Kashmir.
Preventive and reactive internet shutdowns in 2022.
In a SFLC.in report titled ‘Living in Digital Darkness-A Handbook on Internet Shutdowns in India’, it was noted that internet shutdowns affect not only large merchants, e-commerce or large companies, but even the smallest business of any kind of Internet dependence.
An operator at a service center in Mutnur village in Adilabad district, Telangana said, “Several business areas suffered when there was no internet in our region for 30-45 days. Our work includes filling online applications and generation of certificates like birth certificates, OBC certificates etc. Since we could not do any banking transactions, our customers also faced a lot of inconvenience.”
The impact on gig workers (food app delivery partners and taxi aggregator drivers), who rely entirely on the internet to perform their services for their wages, is suffering badly. Shutdowns prevent them from being able to provide their services completely.
Internet shutdowns are also affecting healthcare services, according to a report by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations. With the increased digitization of health records and facilities, many doctors rely on the Internet for consultation with their peers, and patients also use the Internet to consult doctors.
The SFLC report14 identified database access issues faced by a doctor in Manipur during an internet shutdown. Apart from accessing their server, there are also issues with making payments, tracking shipments of medical supplies, and participating in other essential medical activities that are essential to seamlessly deliver healthcare services.
Many health schemes provided by the government for the poor and vulnerable are affected. In early 2020, it was reported that many Ayushman Bharat beneficiaries were unable to access healthcare as hospitals were unable to handle these cases due to an internet blockade in Kashmir. Doctors said they were unable to process Ayushman Bharat cases for 25 consecutive days, after which they resorted to offline processes, causing problems of efficiency and hampering delivery of services to beneficiaries.
Internet shutdowns also have a serious impact on education. The importance of internet access to the education sector has become evident with the online delivery of classes and administration of exams during the pandemic around the world.
More than 96.33% of internet users in India are mobile internet users and around 75% internet shutdowns affect mobile internet services. This exacerbates the digital divide that already exists in the country.
Due to long-term internet outages, some students have dropped out of school or missed an entire year of schooling. In Kashmir, the syllabus for the academic year had to be reduced by 40% due to low internet speed and connectivity.
Parents of children reported that students were discouraged from attending classes due to slow speed. It also caused emotional and mental health issues for many students who were unable to access education.
In some cases, students could not appear in important government examinations for admission to higher education colleges and government jobs.
The observations made in the report make the shortcomings of the current legal framework in the defense of human rights in the context of access to the Internet emphatically clear. As seen in the report, the disruption of access to the Internet is caused in the most minor cases, including for reasons where alternatives to Internet shutdowns are available. The glaring absence of necessity, rationality, proportionality and due process in the exercise of shutdown powers has brought considerable disrepute to the state of democracy in India.