In a first, mobile internet, voice and SMS services were snapped in several parts of Delhi against the backdrop of protests against the new citizenship law. This came after a letter was sent to “Nodal officers” of “Airtel, Vodafone-Idea, Jio, MTNL/BSNL” by DCP (Special Cell) P S Kushwah. The letter states: “In view of the prevailing law and order situation, it is hereby directed that communication of all types, that is, voice, SMS and internet, be halted from 9 am to 1 pm (on Thursday) in the Cell IDs/BTS covering the following areas: Walled city areas of North and Central districts, Mandi House, Seelampur, Jaffrabad, Mustafabad, Jamia Nagar, Shaheen Bagh and Bawana.”
“This should be treated as an absolute direction and compliance should be reported,” it states.
As protesters, as well as local residents, reached out to the telecom companies for clarity on Twitter, Vodafone responded: “As per the directive received from the government, services are stopped at a few locations. As a result of this, you will not be able to use services till 1 pm at these locations.”
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“There is a government order and we are just following it,” PTI quoted Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Mittal as saying.
Sources in Reliance Jio told The Indian Express, “There was a standard instruction given to all the telecom companies, so everybody had to comply and we did too. This is part of a government process.”
Telecom service providers are bound by their licence agreements to comply with government orders. Sources from a telecom firm confirmed this was the first time mobile internet was suspended in the national capital.
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While the most direct laws related to internet shutdowns are the Temporary Suspension Rules, 2017, in which the Centre or State’s Home Secretary orders the shutdown, District Magistrates have interpreted their powers under Section 144 of the Criminal Code of Procedure to include restrictions on telecom and internet. In Delhi’s case, however, the order to telecom firms was issued by a Deputy Commissioner of Police.
Meanwhile, mobile services were also snapped for 24 hours in Ghaziabad late Thursday night. “There is a possibility that anti-social elements can misuse internet services and create rumours that can lead to law and order problems since there have been violent protests against CAA. Keeping this in mind, the administration will be shutting down all mobile services between 10 pm on Thursday to 10 pm Friday,” the official letter read.
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