New Delhi: Almost three months after it imposed a blanket internet ban on the state’s residents, the Manipur government has decided to allow broadband internet access with strict conditions on Tuesday, July 25. The government has kept mobile internet services suspended.
Subject to a list of conditions, including having to submit a signed undertaking to one’s internet service provider (ISP), people with subscriptions to internet lease line (ILL) and fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) broadband connections have been allowed internet access.
ILL connections are typically used by large organisations, including businesses and government institutions. FTTH, on the other hand, is usually availed by households and individual customers.
But even those with broadband internet connections will have to adhere to a host of conditions, including the blocking of social media websites. Other conditions placed on the restoration of broadband internet include having to use static IP addresses, not using virtual private networks (VPNs) or accessing the web through Wi-Fi connections.
If any of the restrictions are violated, action will be taken against the person who gave the undertaking “under relevant laws”. Even if a secondary user violates the restrictions, the person who signed the undertaking will be liable.
The Manipur home department justified the continued ban on mobile internet because its “preparedness for having [an] effective control and regulatory mechanism” for these services “is not technically feasible.”
The order continued to say that control mechanisms were “still poor” to prevent the loss of lives and damage to property caused by the spread of disinformation and rumours on social media.
T. Ranjit Singh, the home department’s commissioner, acknowledged the suffering its 82-day-long internet ban had caused the state’s residents in his order.
“The state government has reviewed the issues of the ban on internet since May 3, 2023 continuously without any break (except [in] exempted cases) and considered the suffering of the Common [sic] as the internet ban had affected important offices/institutions, cohort of people on [a] work from home basis, chartered accountant firms, lawyers, health facilities, refuelling centres, recharging of electricity/mobile, booking for LPG, educational institutions, taxation-related offices, other online-based citizen-centric services etc.”
The strict conditions imposed on internet usage have come under criticism for having too narrow a scope.
Advocate and public policy professional Apar Gupta tweeted on Tuesday that the conditional lift of the ban applies only to a “small” and “negligible” number of the state’s total internet users and should not be characterised as partial restoration.
“Wireline will prefer institutional and users on higher income groups that comprise a ‘tiny’ number of users of the total pie. Even for them severe restrictions include banning WiFi hotspots, social media, VPNs,” his tweet read.
“It is my firm belief the internet shutdown is to serve state interests in avoiding accountability and contouring the media ecology than any evidentiary law and order objective.”
The State Government of Manipur has reportedly “lifted” the Internet Shutdown in Manipur. I would urge journalists to scrutinise this claim especially how they craft their headlines.
The internet has not been “partially” lifted but to a, “small” and “negligible” number of users… pic.twitter.com/digOwYj1mq
— Apar (@apar1984) July 25, 2023
India has the dubious distinction of being the internet shutdown capital of the world, clocking the highest number of such shutdowns by any democracy for the fifth consecutive year in 2023.
The Manipur government’s decision to allow restricted internet access comes after the state’s high court directed it twice to consider doing so in a conditional manner.
The ban was imposed on May 3, when violence between the state’s Meitei and Kuki communities erupted and has been ongoing. At least 150 people have been killed in the violence and over 60,000 others have been displaced.
Internet bans were periodically extended by the government ever since and seemed to be effectively indefinite. The bans have been criticised for being overly broad in degree and scope.
The home department’s order, as well as a sample undertaking to be signed by residents for internet access, have been reproduced below.