Manipur High Court: In a batch of Public Interest Litigation petitions for restoration of internet services in the State of Manipur, the Division Bench of Ahanthem Bimol Singh* and A. Guneshwar Sharma JJ., the Court considered the suggestions of the Expert Committee and directed the State Government to lift the ban on providing the internet service through Internet Lease Line throughout the whole State after ensuring that all the stakeholders have complied with the safeguards given by the Expert Committee.
There has been internet ban in the State of Manipur since the outbreak of violence in the State over High Court’s Order for inclusion of Meitei Community in the Scheduled Tribes List. In the previous order of the Court, the State authorities were directed to provide limited internet service to the public in some designated places under the control of the State authorities. The Court had also constituted an expert Committee for the object and purpose of finding a solution to provide internet services to the public by blocking the social media network/websites. The Court had also directed the Commissioner/Secretary (Home), Government of Manipur, to find out the total number of Mobile numbers and Broadband connections which have been whitelisted by the State Government.
The Expert members of the Committee had given their opinions and solutions for providing limited internet service to the public by safeguarding the concerns of the Government for the security of the State and protecting the life and properties of the citizen. It was suggested that internet service be exclusively limited to those specially identified or whitelisted mobile numbers and so that there was no chance or possibility of any leakage. Certain safeguards were also stated by the expert members for providing internet through broadband connections, either through Internet Lease Line (‘ILL’) or Fiber To The Home (‘FTTH’), which included, dedicated Lease line or FTTH line with static IP; banning of Wi-Fi/ Hotspots from any of the routers and systems; MAC binding at the system level or router; blocking of social media websites and VPNs at the local level; removing of any existing VPNs software from the system and prohibiting installation of new software by any user; and enforcing physical monitoring by the authority concerned.
After careful consideration of the opinions, suggestions and the means given by all the expert members for providing limited service to the public, the Court gave certain directions in the interest of the public to mitigate, at least to some extent, the hardships being faced by the public due to the complete ban imposed by the State Government on internet service in the State and at the same time ensuring the security of the State and safety of the life and properties of the citizens:
i. the State Government, more particularly, the Home Department was directed to lift the ban on internet service through ILL throughout the whole State after ensuring that all the stakeholders have complied with the safeguards given by the Expert Committee;
ii. in the case of FTTH, lifting of the ban on providing internet service can be carried out by the Home Department on case-to-case basis and after ensuring that all the stakeholders have duly complied with the safeguards given by the Expert Committee.
iii. in respect of whitelisting mobile phone numbers, the State Government was directed to carry out physical trial to find out the feasibility of providing internet service to the whitelisted mobile phones without jeopardizing the security of the State and the life and property of the citizen and after such verification, a detailed report was asked to be submitted before the Court on the next date of hearing without fail.
The matter was further listed for hearing on 25-07-2023.
[Aribam Dhananjoy Sharma v. State of Manipur, 2023 SCC OnLine Mani 202, Order Dated: 07-07-2023]