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Despite Department of Telecommunication’s (DoT) recent advisory to several states, including Jammu and Kashmir that internet shutdowns should be avoided, frequent suspension of internet services in the Valley continues unabated.

According to a tracker maintained by Delhi-based not-for-profit organisation Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC), authorities have shutdown the web access in the Valley as many as 42 times since 2017, the highest in any state.

A highly placed sources in the DoT told Greater Kashmir that the Secretary DoT has recently informed District Magistrates of several states including J&K that internet suspensions should not be the “first line of call” while controlling the law and order situation.

The DoT directive has come after Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), an amalgam of cellular companies wrote to DoT in November last that frequent breaks on web access in Kashmir is taking a toll on both the operators and subscribers. The telecom companies have reported losses amounting to almost Rs 180 crore during the 90 day long communication gag in 2016 and continue to suffer losses every time internet is shutdown.

Students, travel agents, businesspersons and people from other walks of life have also been worst victims of the frequent internet shutdowns in Kashmir. Talking to Greater Kashmir, Director General, COAI, Rajan Mathews said this umbrella body has been recently assured by the DoT that communication has been sent across to the authorities that the internet gags should be the last option. 

“It is not only the telecom company that suffers from internet shutdowns but also the common man as we are in a digital age,” Mathews said.  “Shutting down the internet means shutting down whole economy. We hope that DoT communication to authorities in various states brings an end to the frequent communication gag we have been witnessing for the last few years.”

While Kashmir witnessed highest number of 32 suspensions of both mobile and broadband services in 2017. This year has witnessed 15 suspensions this year.

In September 2017,  central government had come up with rules to regulate the authority required and procedures to be followed to “temporarily suspend telecom services” in case of “public emergency or public safety”.

Issued by the Ministry of Communications under the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, these rules were codified as the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017. The rules confer the status of competent authority on the union home secretary when the order is issued by the government of India.

In case of the state government, the power lies with the state home secretary. In “unavoidable circumstances”, though, orders could be issued by an officer “not below the rank of a joint secretary to the government of India, who has been duly authorised by the union home secretary or the state home secretary”.