HOURS after protests by the Maratha Kranti Morcha turned violent in Navi Mumbai on Wednesday night, residents experienced an unprecedented suspension of Internet services by several telecom providers in various parts of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.
The epicentre of the shutdown in data services was Navi Mumbai, where the police requested network providers to suspend Internet services from Thursday morning until Friday evening. But cellphone users in other parts of the city also reported outage of services for some periods of time.
According to senior officers in the Navi Mumbai police, Internet services were suspended after the police anticipated a surge in caste-based violence in the Kopar Khairane locality. “Around 9.30 pm on Wednesday, after the bandh called by Maratha groups was called off elsewhere, there was an outbreak of violence in Kopar Khairane where protesters clashed with the police. As a few years ago, the same locality had witnessed a caste-based incident, we did not take any chances,” said a senior police officer.
With the police making a request to service providers, residents experienced outages from early Thursday morning. “First I thought it was my phone. However, after a little while, I got a call from a friend asking why the Internet was not working. I had heard about the Internet suspension in Aurangabad after protests, and deduced something similar happened here too,” said Kamini Sauputre, a Kharghar resident.
The stoppage of data services in Navi Mumbai, known to be an IT hub, was exacerbated by lack of clarity on when services would resume.
Many people woke up to find services disrupted without any intimation by service providers. “We were not informed. When we woke up, there wasn’t any Internet. At least, we should have been alerted in advance,” said Tejas Adsul, a Kharghar resident. He added that when he inquired with service providers, they said services would resume only on Friday evening. “We line up work through email and WhatsApp. Without data services, our day’s work schedule was disturbed,” said Sumedha Kale, a resident of Kamothe.
Vikram Shah, who runs a small content processing firm and is based in Kopar Khairane, said he is dependent on the Internet for many things as they run an online portal. “Business is suffering as we can’t even tell clients what’s wrong. We are sending out messages to our clients, telling them servers are down,” said Shah.
Bigger IT firms in Airoli such as Accenture and others were unaffected, with their employees reporting that their internal networks and broadband services were functional. Some police stations ended up fielding calls about the suspension in Internet services, though many police officials themselves had no clue of the suspension. “We called the police to check if the Internet had been stopped because there was violence in the area. They just said nothing was wrong. We were left in uncertainty for a long time,” said Priyanka Nahar, a resident of Airoli.
While major telecom companies suspended data services in the morning, local broadband Internet providers kept their services operational until later in the day. “We have not received any communication to shut down the Internet,” said a facilitator in Kharghar requesting anonymity.
Meanwhile, several residents of different areas in Mumbai including Kurla, Mulund and Sion also reported intermittent connectivity issues. “I had Internet in the morning, but it was disconnected later,” said student Vishal Raut, a Mulund resident. Others reported patchy data coverage during taxi rides and on suburban local trains. Senior officials of Mumbai Police, however, denied that internet connections were snapped across the city on Thursday.
“We saw on TV that some other parts of the state had Internet suspended after the Maratha protests. The Internet is not working in our area too, and the police are not telling us anything. It is scary,” said Rushika Joshi, a resident of Rabodi in Thane.
Cab drivers, dependent on Internet and GPS to provide routes and app-connectivity, were also affected. “I had no Internet connection when I went to drop someone in Rabale. Thankfully, the customer knew the route. I am now downloading the offline map for customers,” said Rakesh Singh, an Uber driver.
On Wednesday, amid agitations across the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, there was violence in at least two locations in Navi Mumbai — Kopar Khairane and Kalamboli. According to a press note from Navi Mumbai Police Commissioner Hemant Nagrale, eight officers, including two DCPs, 12 policemen and seven civilians were injured in these two incidents. “Two people were hurt by rubber pellets fired by the police. They are Narayan Gayake and Dattatraya Waghmare. Waghmare, a resident of Pune, is critical and has undergone a surgery,” Nagrale said. In Koper Khairane, some people who were allegedly involved in the protests were booked for vandalism late Wednesday night. “We have booked a case against unknown people, we are investigating,” said senior inspector Shiwaji Awate.