Over 140 advocates have signed a letter addressed to the Chief Justice of India, asking the Court to take suo moto cognizance to suspend the order of the Ministry of Home Affairs dated 31.01.2021 imposing internet shutdown in and around the protest venues and directing it to restrain from imposing further Internet shutdowns at the protest sites and adjoining areas.
The “open letter” written by advocates Sitwat Nabi and Abhisht Hela and signed by 141 advocates, further seeks setting up of a Commission of Enquiry under the guidance of the Chief Justice of India, to probe into:
- Police inaction in controlling the violence and the role of the Delhi Police in allegedly facilitating the mob attack on 29 January, 2021 and failing to ensure peace and security.
- Action against the 200 local hoodlums who, as reports state, had engaged in the manhandling of protestors, and journalists at the Singhu Protest venue.
- Strict action against the journalists and the news channels who are spreading provocative content and fake rumors about the farmers and their protest.
The 6 pages has been written in the light of ongoing the Farmers protest since the past sixty-four days at the three protest venues with Singhu Border being its focal point alongside Tikri and Ghazipur Border.
Here are the “unfortunate events” highlighted in the letter:
- On 26th January, 2021, there was a clash between the farmer protestors and the Delhi police.
- On 29th January, 2021, around 200 men claiming to be local residents barged into the protest site at Singhu Border to vacate the area as has been reported by Hindustan Times and several other online and print media. They pelted stones, damaged properties, and attacked the protestors (men, women, elderly- no bar) despite the presence of heavy security of the police. As an outcome, 44 people were arrested, and various criminal cases including an attempt to murder being registered in Alipur police station.
- On 29th January, 2021, the Home Ministry ordered internet shutdown from 11pm 29.01.2021 till 11pm- 31.01.2021 (First Order of shutdown) which eventually got extended by the order dated 31.01.2021.
- Since 1st February 2021, the government has turned the protest sites especially the Delhi-Ghazipur border into a fortress where it seems like they are waging war against their own men. Embedding more than 2000 iron nails, multi-layer metal barricades, cement walls, and heavily armed security officials- these cannot be considered as law-and-order situations.
Stating that the suspension of internet order issued by the MHA is a gross misuse of power by the Central government and is causing disruption to the protestors and individuals in exercising their fundamental conferred under Article 19 (1) (a), the letter mentions that it’s been 6 days since the internet services have been suspended in and around the protest venues and its adjoining and hence, farmers are rightly convinced that their voices are being shunned down and only one-sided narrative of the government is being pushed forward, which is a clear attack on the fundamental values of the Constitution.
“Theoretically, the Right to Internet access exists in the “new India”, however, practically we are still thriving in the dungeon of the past where the demand for existence of the Right to Internet access should label us non compos mentis.”
It further states that the plight of the farmers is worsening because of the biased reporting by few mainstream media channels and that labeling farmers as “terrorists” by the mainstream media and airing provocative content is a pressing issue.
The letter highlights that there are claims of over 100 farmer protestors including minors who have been missing since 26th January 2021 as reported by various newspapers.
“In a situation like this, the internet shutdown is evidently causing disruption of communication and increasing the difficulty of thousands of families who are dependent on the Internet to have access to information on their respective family members who are missing or are in languishing in jails.”
Moreover, there are school students living across the border sites who are unable to attend classes virtually and working professionals who thrive on the internet while working- from-home in this pandemic situation, the regular citizen not having to do anything to do with the protest are ending up being deprived of their Fundamental rights.
Another argument against the Order issued by the MHA, is that it is bad in the eyes of law and will not hold water when put to test of ‘Wednesbury Principle’, i.e., Principle to test the Unreasonableness of the any legal document, which scratches the Fundamental Constitutional values.
The letter, hence, urges “to the sounding board of the Nation, guardian of human rights and key custodian of the justice delivery system to intervene and take active steps over the matter and strike down further such suspension of Telecom Services Order15 so that the freedom conferred to every individual as a fundamental right, under The Constitution of India can be protected and exercised freely.”