The Calcutta high court on Thursday imposed a stay on the suspension of internet services during class X board exams.
The West Bengal government temporarily suspended internet services in some areas of the state on the days of the exam between March 7 and March 16, to stop mass cheating. There was, however, no restriction on SMS and voice calls.
Following this the Internet Freedom Foundation, an NGO filed a plea in the Calcutta high court on the ground that such an order of suspension could not have been issued by the state under Section 144 CrPC.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Rajarshi Bharadwaj had directed the state government to file an affidavit with all relevant documents.
Advocate General SN Mookherjee told the court on Thursday that the state government’s review committee was satisfied that the impugned order had been issued in accordance with law for maintenance of public order and to prevent ‘incitement of offence’.
The state government’s order issued last week had said that “intelligence reports have been received that internet transmission and voice over internet telephony may be used for unlawful activities in certain areas over the next few days.”
The court on Thursday observed that that it appears that the impugned order had been issued under Section 144 CrPC and is thus not legally tenable as such an initial order can only be issued by the district magistrates and not the state’s additional chief secretary.
It was also underscored that the impugned order does not mention that such suspension of internet services had been ordered in order to conduct the class X board exam in a free or fair manner and is thus devoid of proper reasoning.
The bench, however, clarified that this would not in any way prevent the Mamata Banerjee-administration from taking adequate measures to prevent cheating during the ongoing exam.
More than 1.1 million students would be taking the exam this year. In 2021 the exams could not be held due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2019 and 2020 there were reports of purported leak of question papers via social media platforms from some exam centres in several districts including Malda and Murshidabad within an hour of commencement of exams.
Though the order did not specify that internet services were being suspended due to the board exams the area-specific clamp on the transmission of texts, images and videos has been imposed from 11 am to 3:15 pm on March 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 – the time and dates of the exam.
The State government was also ordered to file a detailed affidavit-in-opposition in two weeks and any reply thereto was ordered to be filed within 1 week. The court is scheduled to hear the matter again on April 6.