Centre for Internet & Society

India's Contribution to Internet Governance Debates", an article by Sunil Abraham, Mukta Batra, Geetha Hariharan, Swaraj Barooah and Akriti Bopanna, was recently published in the NLUD Student Law Journal, an annual peer-reviewed journal published by the National Law University, Delhi.


India is the leader that championed ‘access to knowledge’ and ‘access to medicine’. However, India holds seemingly conflicting views on the future of the Internet, and how it will be governed. India’s stance is evolving and is distinct from that of authoritarian states who do not care for equal footing and multi-stakeholderism.


Despite John Perry Barlow’s defiant and idealistic Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace1 in 1996, debates about governing the Internet have been alive since the late 1990s. The tug-of-war over its governance continues to bubble among states, businesses, techies, civil society and users. These stakeholders have wondered who should govern the Internet or parts of it: Should it be the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)? The International Telecommunications Union (ITU)? The offspring of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) - the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) or Enhanced Cooperation (EC) under the UN? Underlying this debate has been the role and power of each stakeholder at the decision-making table.States in both the global North and South have taken various positions on this issue.

Whether all stakeholders ought to have an equal say in governing the unique structure of the Internet or do states have sovereign public policy authority? India has, in the past, subscribed to the latter view. For instance, at WSIS in 2003, through Arun Shourie, then India’s Minister for Information Technology, India supported the move ‘requesting the Secretary General to set up a Working Group to think through issues concerning Internet Governance,’ offering him ‘considerable experience in this regard... [and] contribute in whatever way the Secretary General deems appropriate’. The United States (US), United Kingdom (UK) and New Zealand have expressed their support for ‘equal footing multi-stakeholderism’ and Australia subscribes to the status quo.

India’s position has been much followed, discussed and criticised. In this article, we trace and summarise India’s participation in the IGF, UN General Assembly (‘UNGA’), ITU and the NETmundial conference (April 2014) as a representative sample of Internet governance fora. In these fora, India has been represented by one of three arms of its government:  the  Department  of  Electronics  and  Information  Technology  (DeitY),  the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). The DeitY was converted to a full-fledged ministry in 2016 known as the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY). DeitY and DoT were part of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) until 2016 when it was bifurcated into the Ministry of Communications and MeitY.

DeitY  used  to  be  and  DoT  still  is,  within  the  Ministry  of  Communications  and Information Technology (MCIT) in India. Though India has been acknowledged globally for championing ‘access to knowledge’ and ‘access to medicine’ at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and World Trade Organization (WTO), global civil society and other stakeholders have criticised India’s behaviour in Internet governance for reasons such as lack of continuity and coherence and for holding policy positions overlapping with those of authoritarian states.

We  argue  that  even  though  confusion  about  the  Indian  position  arises  from  a multiplicity of views held within the Indian government, India’s position, in totality, is distinct from those of authoritarian states. Since criticism of the Indian government became more strident in 2011, after India introduced a proposal at the UNGA for a UN Committee on Internet-related Policies (CIRP) comprising states as members, we will begin to trace India's position chronologically from that point onwards.

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