Telecommunications Bill, 2023: Boon or bane
The article “Telecom law upgrades for a digital authoritarian state”, explores the recent passage of the Telecommunications Bill, 2023, announced via a tweet by Union Minister Ashwini Vaishnav, with a focus on the deliberate use of the term “Bharat” instead of “India” and the attribution of the bill to the individual “vision” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It dives into the cultural nativism employed by the government to divert attention from the significant implications of the Telecom Bill.
GS-02 (Government policies and interventions)
Does the Telecommunications Bill, 2023, represent a move towards digital authoritarianism, and how does the intentional use of cultural symbolism impact the scrutiny of legislative actions, Explain. (250 words)
Dimensions of the Article:
- Cultural Symbolism in Communication
- Innovations and Market Dynamics
- State Control and Authoritarian Measures
- Constitutional Challenges and Parliamentary Proceedings
- Impact on Ordinary Citizens
Cultural Symbolism in Communication:
- The deliberate use of the term “Bharat” instead of “India” in official communication, coupled with attributing the Telecom Bill to the individual “vision” of Prime Minister Modi, is seen as a strategic move. The article argues that this cultural nativism serves to create an illusion of representing the masses and appeals to a sense of national destiny.
- The Telecom Bill introduces the term “Digital Bharat Nidhi” by renaming the Universal Services Obligation Fund (USOF).
- Despite this change, the fundamental challenges of the digital divide remain unaddressed. Reports indicate a stagnation in new telecom users, and smartphone sales have witnessed a contraction, questioning the effectiveness of the bill in bridging the digital gap.
Innovations and Market Dynamics:
- Examining the provisions in the Telecom Bill related to satellite spectrum allocation, regulatory sandboxes, and online dispute resolution systems, it suggests that these innovations may enhance the discretionary power of the government, favoring select private firms as “national champions.
- ” The concern is raised that these provisions may benefit large corporations rather than fostering true competition in the telecom sector.
State Control and Authoritarian Measures:
- The Telecom Bill is criticized for maintaining the colonial architecture of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, with subtle rewording.
- The change from “licensing” to “authorization” is highlighted, indicating increased severity. The vague definitions of “telecommunication” and “telecommunication services” could potentially allow licensing of messaging applications like WhatsApp or email services such as Gmail. It raises concerns about potential abuse of interception and surveillance powers, internet shutdowns, and the lack of safeguards.
Constitutional Challenges and Parliamentary Proceedings:
- It discusses the constitutional challenges arising from the suspension of Opposition Members of Parliament and the haste with which the Telecom Bill was passed.
- It questions the efficacy of the parliamentary system in providing a constitutional veneer while concentrating power unconstitutionally.
Impact on Ordinary Citizens:
- The ordinary citizen, referred to as “bharatwasis,” is depicted as being diverted from critical questions and concerns by messages encouraging a focus on health, sanity, and cultural practices.
- The article posits that the transformation from a colony to a “rashtra” under the divine vision of the Prime Minister signals a departure from democracy.