The Ministry of Communications, on August 7th, 2017, notified new rules for the suspension of telecom services in case of public emergency or public safety, and consequently, the suspension of Internet services in India. These rules known as the “Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017” were issued under section 7 of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.

According to these rules, an order for suspension of telecom services containing can be made by a ‘competent authority’ which would be:

  • In case of Government of India, the Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • In case of a State Government, the Secretary to the State Government in-charge of the the Home Department.

However, ‘in unavoidable circumstances’, such an order might be issued by an officer of the rank of Joint Secretary or above who has been duly authorised by the Union Home Secretary or State Home Secretary. This order will be subject to the confirmation from the competent authority as stated above within 24 hours and will cease to exist in case of failure of receipt of such confirmation.

The rules mandate that the order passed by the competent authority must “contain reasons for such direction” and a copy of the order shall be forwarded to a Review Committee by the next working day. The Review Committee shall comprise of:

  • Where it is constituted by the Central Government- Cabinet Secretary, and Secretaries of Legal Affairs and Department of Telecommunication;
  • Where it is constituted by State Government- Chief Secretary, Secretary Law or Legal Remembrancer In-Charge, Legal Affairs and Secretary to the State Government (other than the Home Secretary).

The Review Committee will have to meet within five working days of the issuance of order and record its findingson the suspension order whether it is in accordance with the provisions of sub-section (2) of section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act.

Moreover, the rules require the telegraph authority and service providers to designate officers in every licensed service area or State or Union territory, as the nodal officers to receive and handle such requisitions.

The chart below lays down the rules in a more simplified manner. These rules come in the light of the increasing instances of Internet shutdowns that India has been witnessing over the past few years. According to our Internet Shutdowns Tracker, this year has already seen 55 instances of Internet shutdowns so far.