Gauhati HC nudge to restore Internet services in Assam
Gauhati High Court on Tuesday directed the Assam government to review the law and order situation and consider restoring the mobile Internet service in the state.
The state government, in its submission before the court during the day, said the decision to suspend the service was being reviewed regularly and depending on the situation, it would be lifted completely.
The government had first suspended the service on December 11, initially for 24 hours in 10 districts, to control the law and order situation following protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.
On December 12, the suspension was extended by 48 hours across the state and on December 14 and 15 by 24 hours. Broadband Internet service was restored on Tuesday but mobile Internet service continued to be suspended considering the potential of unrest in the region.
The high court’s directive was based on four petitions, seeking its intervention in restoring mobile Internet connectivity in the state.
Banashree Gogoi, one of the petitioners, said, “I moved the high court against the suspension of mobile Internet service as it violates human rights. Because of unavailability of mobile Internet, many people are unable to pay hospitals bills, ATMs are running dry, foreign tourists are stranded and other essential online services, including banking, electricity and business, are badly hit.”
The other petitioners are Ajit Bhuyan, Randip Sarma and Luit Barman.
Banashree’s counsel, advocate Moloy Kumar Sarma, said, “A division bench of the high court, taking up several petitions filed against the ban on Internet services in the wake of violence during the protests against the amended citizenship act, asked the state government to consider lifting the ban in a phased manner.”
The high court observed that initially the government may consider resuming the mobile Internet service during afternoon hours after 3pm.
“The court order said in case there is no disruption or untoward incident, the respondents (state government) may consider a longer period of continuance of Internet or mobile data so that normalcy is restored in all walks of life,” Sarma said.
The court also said that the authorities, while restoring the services, should take into consideration the prevailing situation. The court has fixed December 19 as the next date of hearing.
Assam cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said, “The state government will review the situation on Thursday and then take a call on resuming the mobile Internet service.”
Profit without service: The suspension of mobile Internet and data is purportedly helping service providers gain crores of rupees as customers have lost on service for the past seven days.
Pre-paid mobile recharge comes with a limited validity period. For example Jio, Airtel and BSNL have a tariff of Rs 199, Rs 248 and Rs 187 respectively for 28 days, said Mukib Hussain, a retailer of mobile recharge at Dergaon in Upper Assam’s Golaghat district. He added that as many as one crore users on an average use mobile Internet in Assam.
“This data shows that an average of Rs 7.50 daily was gained from more than a crore of users by the service providers for the last seven days which amounts to a gain of more than Rs 52 crore in seven days without providing any sevice,” Hussain said.
Hussain, however, said that the service providers were not responsible as they were ready to provide the service the customers had bought.
“The government should at least ask the companies to extend the validity of recharge for the days the Internet was suspended,” a mobile Internet user said.
Additional reporting by Sanjoy Hazarika in Bokakhat