The Delhi government on Friday informed the Delhi High Court that its decision to install CCTV cameras in classrooms is a “legitimate, well considered and thought out policy measure” made in the larger interests of students, parents and staff at government schools.
The submission was made in a plea challenging a September and December 2017 decision of the Delhi government to install CCTV cameras in government schools. The plea further challenges circulars issued in November 2019 where the Directorate of Education directed heads of schools to provide the data of the students to the public works department for creating login IDs and passwords for parents to view the live feed of the classrooms. The plea further sought immediate removal of the CCTV cameras and destruction of the footage.
Appearing for the Delhi government, advocate Gautam Narayan submitted before a division bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad that there was not a single complaint addressed by any parent or any student against the installation of cameras in classrooms. “There are 728 government schools in which it was proposed to be installed and out of 768, in 601 it is already installed and functioning for the past 3 years,” Narayan said, adding that the Supreme Court had rejected a similar petition before it recently. Granting time to the petitioner to file a response, the high court listed the matter on January 13.
In its reply to the plea, the state government submitted that a similar challenge against the two 2017 decisions was made before the Supreme Court in Amber Tickoo v GNCTD, which has been dismissed.
The reply states that “reports of child abuses in the schools of Delhi/NCR had surfaced further highlighting the need to ramp up the security provisions in the schools for the safety of the children. An emergency meeting was chaired by the Dy. Chief Minister on 11.09.2017 wherein it was directed that all schools of Delhi run by Delhi Government would mandatorily install CCTV cameras in the classrooms”.
The reply further states that in the aftermath of the child abuse incidents, the CBSE issued a circular to heads of schools on September 12, 2017, directing compliance with the Ministry of Human Resource Development procedures that include the installation of CCTV cameras at all vulnerable spots in school premises.
The government has said that though the decision to install CCTV cameras in classrooms of all government schools was taken after the child abuse reports in 2017, the proposal to install CCTV cameras in school premises had been in the pipeline since 2015.
The reply refers to a pilot project initiated by the government which involved several review meetings conducted with the consultants of the project–Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab. There were several orientation sessions conducted with school principals explaining the features of the project and the school principal’s role in June 2017.
The reply states that the decision to install CCTV cameras is not a “knee jerk reaction” to child abuse reports in September 2019 but was being discussed for over two years. “The prime consideration for installation of the CCTVs in classrooms is to ensure the safety and security of students as well as to ensure teacher attendance and teacher punctuality in classrooms,” the government has said.
The government has said that the right to privacy like any other fundamental right is not absolute and is subject to reasonable restrictions by the state. “That in balancing the interest of the State to ensure safety and protection of the students along with the right of privacy in a classroom, it is to be borne in mind the extent to which the expectation of privacy would be reasonable in a public classroom,” the reply states.
Relying on the apex court’s 2018 ruling on Aadhaar, the Delhi government has further argued that the right of an individual to their privacy, even if it extends to the public sphere, would always be subject to the legitimate state interest. The prevailing social needs, which in this case, in light of the increasing incidents of violence in schools, would have to be borne in mind while balancing interests, it has said.
The PIL was moved by a Delhi parents’ association and government school teachers’ groups stating that installation of CCTVs inside classrooms without obtaining consent from either students or their parents and teachers is a “gross and direct violation” of the fundamental right to privacy.
The plea also argues that the fears of petitioners are further compounded by the present-day problems including morphing and abuse of footage and also its possible dissemination on social media and the internet. With regard to teachers, the petition specifically mentions that their interactions with students will come under direct scrutiny and “shall naturally have a chilling effect”.