India’s top court ruled on Friday that the indefinite shutdown of the internet in Kashmir was unwarranted and demonstrated “abuse of power” by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi -led government.
India cut internet access in Kashmir in August last year after revoking the Muslim majority region’s autonomy and statehood. The prolonged shutdown, which the government argues has been enforced as a security measure, is the longest in any democracy.
In his ruling, Supreme Court said indefinite suspension of internet violates India’s telecommunications rules. Justice N. V. Ramana also ordered local authorities in Kashmir to review all the curbs within a week.
“Freedom of internet access is a fundamental right,” justice Ramana said. The court also ruled that the government should disclose all internet shutdown orders and do so in writing so that aggrieved people have a chance to challenge them.
The Indian government had also cut mobile phone connections in Kashmir, but that has been restored in most places.
Nikhil Pahwa, an activist and founder of news outlet MediaNama, said the ruling today is “significant” as it would now guide lower courts.
There have been at least 381 documented instances of internet shutdown in India in the last nine years, 319 of which have occurred since 2017, according to Internet Shutdowns, a service operated by New Delhi-based digital advocacy group Software Law and Freedom Centre.
The unavailability of internet has also severely impacted businesses. According to a 2018 study by Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), internet shutdown had cost the Indian economy about $3.04 billion. In a report late last month, industry group Cellular Operator Association of India (COAI) estimated that mobile carriers lose about $8 million a day for shutdown in any of the 22 circles where they operate in the country.