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Friday, September 17, 2021

Punjab: No trespass or breach into the privacy of house, says High Court

Ex-top judge says privacy violated by CCTVs installed at HC CJ’s residence.

By: Express News Service | Chandigarh |
July 23, 2021 11:03:43 am
In his petition, Justice Sodhi (retd) had sought directions to “remove the CCTV cameras installed near the front boundary of the Chief Justice’s residence which can invade the privacy of the petitioner, and alternatively, to relocate the cameras, so that they cannot look towards the house of the petitioner”.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court has disposed the plea of former a former Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court seeking removal of the CCTV cameras installed near the front boundary of official residence of the Chief Justice (of the Punjab and Haryana High Court), on the inspection report submitted by the Chandigarh DGP mentioning that “there is no trespass or breach into the privacy of the house”.

Justice N K Sodhi (retd), former Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court filed, had moved High Court apprehending that the high-resolution CCTV cameras installed at the official residence of Punjab and Haryana High Court Chief Justice Ravi Shanker Jha’s residence in Sector 4 could record the movement of people visiting Justice Sodhi’s private house (opposite Chief Justice’s official house) and thus it was hampering his fundamental rights of privacy.

His counsel, Arjun Partap Atma Ram, told The Indian Express that Registrar General, Punjab and Haryana High Court had written to Justice Sodhi that the cameras’ range was about 30 metres. Thus, the petition was disposed of, Tuesday, with certain observations.

Claiming that the range of the cameras was 150 metres, Justice Sodhi (retd) had filed the petition against “Union of India through the Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Union territory of Chandigarh through its Administrator, Advisor to the Administrator, Chandigarh Police through the Director General of Police; Punjab and Haryana High Court through its Registrar and the Director General (CRPF).

In his petition, Justice Sodhi (retd) had sought directions to “remove the CCTV cameras installed near the front boundary of the Chief Justice’s residence – House No 35, Sector 4, Chandigarh, which can invade the privacy of the petitioner, and alternatively, to relocate the cameras, so that they cannot look towards the house of the petitioner”.

The petitioner had also sought that directions be issued to the respondents “to frame rules regarding installation of CCTV cameras in Chandigarh”, “dispense with the service of advance notices upon the respondents”, “award the costs of the petition in favour of petitioner and against the respondents”.

Citing his grievance, Justice Sodhi’s petition mentioned, “The petitioner is aggrieved by the installation and setting up of surveillance cameras on tall poles in the residence of the Hon’ble Chief Justice of this Hon’ble Court — House No. 35, Sector 4, Chandigarh which is opposite the house of the petitioner. Photographs of the cameras installed in the residence can be produced if so desired by this Hon’ble High Court. The petitioner believes that they are high resolution infrared CCTV cameras of model DS-2AE 7232T1-A (D), which have a range of 150 metres and are capable of capturing detailed images up to that distance. They have the capability of capturing images in extremely poor dim light and have the option of recording audio signals in addition to video. The privacy mask feature is mandatory to safeguard the privacy of those living around the installation of such cameras in the residential areas abroad”.

“The CCTV cameras installed can monitor the street in front of the Chief Justice’s House and at least the petitioner’s house and the adjoining House No. 34 and 37, Sector 4, Chandigarh, apart from being able to monitor the green belts/parks to the west of the said house and in south-west of the said house. The cameras can record persons and cars and other vehicles coming to, leaving, going in and going out of the petitioner’s house, they can look into the front portion of the petitioner’s built-up house and the side portion of the petitioner’s built up house. Thus, there is an invasion of privacy of all the residents of house no. 36, Sector 4, including the petitioner and his family,” Justice Sodhi’s petition mentioned.

As per the HC order, an inspection report of Chandigarh Police found that, “the installation of the CCTVs has been done to secure the protected person from all possible apprehension of threats in accordance with the provisions of ‘Yellow Book’ and these cameras installed there do not cover the houses on opposite side of the street and only cover the area upto the road berm of House No. 34 and 36, Sector 4, Chandigarh and there is no trespass or breach into the privacy of House No. 36, Sector-4, Chandigarh…”

Counsel for petitioner, Rajiv Atma Ram, Senior Advocate, and Advocate Arjun Pratap Atma Ram, pointed out that although the letter written by the Registrar General, Punjab and Haryana High Court, Chandigarh, satisfies the apprehension raised by the petitioner, however, he urged that the security agencies should be bound down in such a manner that in future as well there is no misuse of the CCTV cameras installed at House No. 35 so as to invade the privacy of petitioner.

The division bench of Justice Jaswant Singh and Justice Sant Parkash after hearing the matter and perusing the report said, “A perusal of the said report would show that security agencies have balanced the privacy of residents of area with the threat perception of the ‘protected person’ by permanently adjusting the cameras in such a way so that privacy of not only the House of Petitioner, but also of other houses in vicinity is maintained. We are, thus, satisfied that the discomfort shown by the petitioner on installation of cameras is misplaced. The report is ordered to be re-sealed and be kept by the Registrar General, Punjab and Haryana High Court, Chandigarh, in his custody.”
The bench further held that, “As far as second prayer made by the petitioner for framing of Rules is concerned, we are of the opinion that at this stage no such direction is required to be given. We leave it to the discretion of the UT Administration to take a decision as and when the situation in the city warrants.”

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