A Vacation Bench of the Supreme Court on June 9 found no reason to step in and urgently entertain a petition challenging the continued internet “ban” in Manipur despite the government’s claim that there has been a “de-escalation” in violence and clashes across the State.
Mentioning the petition before the Vacation Bench of Justices Aniruddha Bose and Rajesh Bindal, advocate Shadan Farasat, appearing for the petitioners, said the ban has been continuing for over 35 days.
“The shutdown order is grossly disproportionate in its interference with the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to carry on any trade or business using the constitutionally protected medium of the internet,” Mr. Farasat, appearing for petitioner-advocate Chongtham Victor Singh, said the shutdown infringed upon the constitutional right to access the internet.
Manipur State counsel countered that the Manipur High Court was already seized of the issue of internet shutdown and had asked the State government to look into it.
The Vacation Bench said the case would be listed in due course before the Regular Bench after the summer holidays. It told Mr. Farasat that the State High Court was already seized of the issue.
The petition said the government, though maintaining that the State was returning to normalcy, had continued to “mechanically” extend the internet shutdown. So far, the shutdown has been extended over five times, between May 3 to May 26, “effectively resulting in an indefinite shutdown of the internet”, it noted.
The shutdown order had merely stated a threat to law and order. The State had reasoned that anti-social elements may use social media to spread rumours and incite the public.
The shutdown orders do not divulge a protracted risk or emergency to public safety, the petition said.
Four of the suspension orders on May 3, May 4, May 7 and May 21 were not reviewed by the Review Committee, it claimed.
“Orders have been repeatedly issued in a cyclostyled format, reflecting a clear non-application of mind on the part of the State,” the petition has said.
The petition has cited the court’s judgment in Anuradha Bhasin case, which dealt with the internet blackout in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370, which had upheld the need for authorities to “proactively publish the shutdown orders as a measure of transparency and accountability”.
The plea said the shutdown in Manipur have severely affected livelihoods.
It has had a “significant economic, humanitarian, social and psychological impact” within the State. Children have been unable to attend school. People have not been able to access funds from banks, receive payments from clients, distribute salaries or communicate via email or WhatsApp.
The shutdown was imposed after clashes, violence, widespread arson and killings followed a High Court order to include the Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribe category.