The Supreme Court of India on Friday ordered immediate review of internet suspension in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Restrictions on fundamental rights cannot be done by arbitrary exercise of power, said Justice Ramana while reading out the verdict. Freedom of speech and expression includes right to internet within Article 19 of the Constitution of India, said the apex court.
But, Internet shutdowns are more than merely an inconvenience, they are also having an economic impact on the country.
A new study says that India lost over $1.3 billion in internet shutdowns across the country — lasting 4,196 hours in 2019 — making it the third-most economically affected country after Iraq and Sudan, among 21 countries where major internet shutdowns happened last year. This is a result of internet shutdowns in regions like Jammu & Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Rajasthan, Tripura, and Uttar Pradesh.
The report, titled The Global Cost of Internet Shutdowns, in 2019 by internet research firm Top10VPN, worked on calculating the data in major regions of the world using the COST tool.
The total cost of internet shutdowns across the world, according to the report, stood at $8.05 billion in 2019, an increase of 235 per cent since 2015-16. Its internet shutdown tracker for India calculated 106 shutdowns in 2019.
India imposes internet restrictions more often than any other country, with over 100 shutdowns documented in 2019. An April 2018 report by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (Icrier) estimated the economic impact of internet shutdowns in India from 2012-17 at $3.04 billion, and the overall number of hours of shutdown worked to 16,315 hours.
It has been reported globally that the internet shutdown in Kashmir, which was imposed on 4 August, is the longest-ever internet block imposed by any country. People here have been without the internet for around five months, when Article 370, the constitutional provision granting it special status was nullified. It has now been over 158 days and counting, since internet access was cut off in Kashmir.
Most recently, shutdowns have been imposed in the northeast in relation to the Citizenship Amendment Act resulted in around $102 million of economic impact
Iraq — which suffered the highest economic impact from internet shutdowns, was hit by $2.3 billion and 209 hours of blackouts.
The most significant internet blackouts were in October amid anti-government protests due to rising unemployment, failing public services and corruption, the Top10VPN report said. Sudan suffered the second highest impact at $1.87 billion, and 864 hours of blackouts.
Countries across the world also put blocks selectively on specific online platforms. WhatsApp was the platform that saw the highest number of shutdowns globally at 6,236 hours. Facebook was second, blocked globally for 6,208 hours, followed by Instagram (6,193 hours), Twitter (5,860 hours) and YouTube (684 hours).
Today, SC also ordered restoration of internet services in all institutions providing essential services like hospitals, educational centres. All restrictive orders in Jammu and Kashmir over the past five months following the scrapping of Article 370 are to be made public so they can be challenged legally, the court said.