New Delhi: In an unprecedented bid to block material critical of controversial business school Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM), the Indian government has ordered Internet service providers (ISPs) to prevent access to more than 70 URLs, provoking a storm of protest online and from the publications affected.
The directive was issued on the basis of an order from a court in Gwalior, said Gulshan Rai, director general of CERT-In (Computer Emergency Response Team-India). The order, signed by Subodh Saxena of the department of telecommunications (DoT), was issued on Thursday and was reported earlier on Friday by the MediaNama website.
Interestingly, the URLs listed include a University Grants Commission (UGC) notification saying that IIPM is not a university and “does not have the right of conferring or granting degrees as specified by UGC”.
A.K. Dogra, director (administration) at UGC, said he was “not aware of the development and it is news to me”.
UGC chairperson Ved Prakash and secretary Akhilesh Gupta could not be reached on their mobile phones, nor did they respond to text messages at the time of going to press.
The move comes amid criticism of the government for recent steps that have been regarded as attempts to curb freedom of speech.
DoT couldn’t be immediately reached for comment. UGC and IIPM representatives also couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
IIPM has been the subject of several critical articles in various publications, including Outlook, Careers360 and The Caravan. The URLs related to these stories have been blocked. A controversy had blown up in 2005 over attempts to gag a blogger critical of IIPM. That site, too, is among those ordered to be blocked.
The Caravan editor Anant Nath said, “Our biggest concern is that DoT has taken this action by itself. We haven’t been informed about this notice. In the conventional course, we expect it to inform the said media houses. So, at the first instance, we will take this matter up with DoT itself, and if further needed, we will take legal action also.”
Maheshwar Peri, publisher of Careers360 magazine, said, “It is outrageous. We will reply to the notice and may explore a contempt case.”
He wondered how contradictory orders were being issued when he had already fought cases in the courts, including the Uttarakhand high court, which had set aside a criminal case filed by IIPM against Careers360.
Saxena’s notice makes clear that only the specific URLs should be blocked and not the entire website. He also asks that the ISPs not mention the “name of the URL in the compliance letter”. As of Friday evening, most of the websites were still accessible.
One of the writers whose stories were blocked protested against the action.
“This is a grave violation of freedom of speech and expression. They (the government) haven’t even informed me that they have blocked my website. It’s unfair as they are not even giving me a chance to defend myself,” said Vij, a writer and journalist who writes for Kafila, a blog on politics and the media.
P.N. Vasanti, director at the Centre for Media Studies, a Delhi-based media research think tank, said the verdict will be challenged. “I doubt DoT will actually act on this notice; they are only doing lip service to address the court notice, waiting for someone to challenge it. It is definitely a judgement that should be questioned,” she said.
Other URLs include stories on sites of publications such as The Indian Express, The Economic Times and blog posts on The Wall Street Journal site, among others.
IIPM used to be a significant advertiser in large mainstream newspapers such as The Times of India and Hindustan Times until recently.
Mint could not reach Arindam Chaudhuri, head of IIPM, on the phone. A text message and an email also did not yield any response.
Shauvik Ghosh contributed to this story.