Mobile internet connectivity was temporarily suspended for two hours in 24 of Assam’s 35 districts on Sunday to hold “free, fair and transparent” recruitment exams for government agencies, according to a government decree. It will be suspended for two more hours later in the day.
An order issued by the state’s Department of Interior and Politics invoked Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885 with the Temporary Suspension of Telecommunications Service (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rule 2017 to provide mobile internet services suspended from 10am to 12pm and from 2pm to 4pm on August 21st and 28th. However, broadband-based services would remain operational throughout the period, it said.
The exams are being conducted for recruitment of 30,000 III and IV grade posts in the Assam government for which more than 14,000 candidates are applying on August 21, September 28 and 11.
Assam’s government is temporarily suspending mobile internet in 25 districts to allow government agency recruitment exams to be held in a “free, fair and transparent manner”. Mobile internet services will be closed on August 28 from 10:00 to 12:00 and from 14:00 to 16:00. @IndianExpress pic.twitter.com/XMXXDYuqec
– Tora Agarwala (@toramatix) August 21, 2022
Earlier this week, in a virtual conference with deputy commissioners, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma described the recruitment exams as the “biggest” of their kind for grade III and IV posts. “This is not just an exam. If we can bring in 30,000 entirely on their merits, the face of government will change,” he said, adding that he apologized “to the public” for the “inconvenience.”
“It’s two hours…sometimes the mobile internet crashes [for the same duration] if towers also fail,” said Sarma.
The districts where mobile internet connectivity was cut on Sunday included the capital Guwahati and other areas of Kamrup (Metro) district, as well as Bajali, Biswanath, Cachar, Charaideo, Chirang, Darrang, Dhemaji, Dibrugarh, Dima Hasao, Golaghat, Jorhat , Districts of Kamrup, Karbi Anglong, Kokrajhar, Lakhimpur, Majuli, Nalbari, Sivasgar, Sonitpur, Tamulpur, Tinsukia, Udalguri and West Karbi Anglong. On August 28, the list will also include Baksa district. Sarma said that for the Sept. 11 exam, the government will review whether the move is necessary, as only a small number of candidates would show up for the exam that day.
“We don’t want to take any chances…even if a person reveals the questionnaire on WhatsApp during the exam, there will be chaos,” Sarma said.
According to the order signed by Niraj Verma, Chief Secretary (Interior and Political Department), the government took this step because “unscrupulous elements had resorted to unfair means on previous occasions by using various mobile applications such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, YouTube, etc . that rely on internet connectivity.”
“The Assam government does not want any error in the examination process that could cast doubt on the fairness of the recruitment process,” the order reads. She added that the government had “examined the matter” and concluded that “in the interests of a free, fair and transparent recruitment test, it is prudent and expedient to close all possible loopholes, including temporarily disabling mobile internet connectivity during of the exam times on the days set for holding such a written exam,” it said.
In addition, on August 21, 28 and September 11, Section 144 of the CrPC (Prohibition Orders) was promulgated in and around the exam sites.
Following the suspension, Congressman Pradyut Bordoloi wrote to the prime minister on Sunday, expressing “concern” and urging the government to reconsider the decision in the public interest. “Suspending the internet to conduct exams has already been found disproportionate and unjustified on grounds of public emergency or public safety, as held by the Hon’ble High Court of West Bengal in Kolkata in March 2022 in Ashlesh Birader vs. State of West Bengal arranged. ‘ Bordoloi wrote, adding that the measure was ‘disproportionate’ and affected the ‘right to speech, the right to subsistence, access to information, education and health’.
A government source said the decision was made taking into account the “history of irregularities in entrance exams” in the state. “The original plan was to limit services only near the exam centers, but that didn’t work out,” he said.