Gauhati High Court refuses to uphold mobile internet restrictions during state recruitment exams

The Gauhati High Court dismissed the request for interim orders in a plea challenging the notification dated 18.08.2022 temporarily suspending mobile internet connectivity during the state recruitment exam.

The contested order was issued by the Principal Secretary to the Government of Assam, Department of Home Affairs and Politics, invoking the authority conferred by the rules to temporarily suspend telecommunications services (public emergency or public safety), 2017, read with Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885. It had planned that on 21.08.2022 and 28.08.2022, mobile internet services would remain suspended for 4 hours in 24 districts which had telegraph centers written exam to fill approximately 30,000 positions for Grade III and Grade-IV Services in various state departments. The measure was reportedly passed to facilitate a free, fair and transparent conduct of the exam by curbing cell phone cheating.

Counsel for the applicant argued that the notification violated the exercise of fundamental rights guaranteed to his client under Section 19(1) of the Constitution of India and that under the provisions of the section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, internet services could not be suspended in order to prevent cheating in examination halls. She maintained that the only remedy in such a suspension of this right was in accordance with the procedure provided for in Article 19, paragraph 2, of the Constitution, which, in her opinion, had not been followed in this case.

Relying heavily on Supreme Court decisions in Anuradha Bhasin vs. union of india and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) v Indian Union and anothershe argued that since the temporary suspension of internet services directly infringed her client’s fundamental right, it was appropriate for the Court not only to interfere with the disputed notification, but to issue an interim order suspending its operation.

The Advocate General of Assam argued that the state had developed provisions drawn up on the basis of standard operating procedure to ensure a free, fair and malpractice-free recruitment process and that the temporary suspension of services mobile data had only been adopted as the last possibility.

It has been argued that such a measure should be adopted by the state after other measures have been put in place. He pointed out that the government has taken strict action keeping in mind the onslaught of leaked question papers in the few recruitment processes held in the state of Assam over the past few years. He added that it was technically not possible to selectively suspend mobile data services only in areas where exam centers were located. He added that broadband and cable Internet services would remain uninterrupted. He clarified that mobile internet services would be suspended on a Sunday afternoon, for a fixed period only.

The Advocate General also referred to the decision in Anuradha Bhasin, to maintain that the remedy adopted by the State was both admissible and justified in the facts and circumstances of the case. He argued that the petition was likely to be dismissed because there was nothing on file to indicate whether the petitioner had a cell phone or was using a mobile data service. To this, the petitioner’s lawyer replied that the petitioner was personally harmed since his mobile services were not working due to the suspension of the data card.

The Court said the question of whether mobile data services could be temporarily suspended to combat fraud could only be considered if the state files an affidavit stating its position, along with documents, on the record. . To this end, a notice was issued which was accepted by the government’s chief advocate, Assam.

The Court declared that the applicant had failed to prove the facts in support of his request for interim measures. Bearing in mind that the suspension of data services should not be extended to the examination scheduled for 11.09.2022 and that some disruption may be caused to the conduct of the examination, the Court denied the request for orders provisional.


Quote:2022 LiveLaw (Gau) 59

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