The Telecom Bill’s Internet Shutdown Switch: A Road to Excessive Delegation?

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April 22, 2023

Year after year, India continues to retain its position of the internet shutdown capital of the world. Over a period of time, they have become a routine administrative tool which is used in ways that have led to disastrous consequences for the personal, professional and psychological lives of individuals. This problem will only further be exacerbated if the recently formulated Draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022 is passed.

Through its Clause 24, the Bill allows the Central and state governments to impose internet shutdowns or wholly suspend any telecommunication services. The exercise of such wide discretionary powers rests upon the subjective satisfaction of the government that a state of public emergency or a situation that threatens public safety indeed does exist.

Administrators in Rajasthan have previously imposed shutdowns thrice in three weeks in order to prevent malpractices in a local-level examination. Such instances are not unforeseeable, given the phrasing of the Bill which allows for shutdowns if the government is “satisfied that it is necessary or expedient to do so”.

Even if a lenient standard towards delegation is adopted to allow the retention of Clause 24 of the Bill as it currently stands, potential safeguards can be infused in the Bill if the practices embedded in the United States’ Administrative Procedure Act are borrowed. The Act requires administrative agencies to publish all proposed rule-making for public scrutiny in order to enhance the values of consultation and transparency in subordinate legislation. A clause requiring all proposed subordinate legislation to be published can thus be introduced in the Bill.

VIA Bar and Bench