Chennai, February 15, 2022: While hearing a prayer for abstaining police authorities from interfering in day-to-day recreational activities of a Sports Centre, the Madras High Court has held that Police cannot insist every recreational club to install CCTV cameras in all the places, including playing area and corridors, which would be termed as ignoring the right to privacy.
The Bench of Justice Krishnan Ramasamy observed that suspicion however strong it may be cannot take the place of proof, and once when the statute makes it amply clear that a procedure is to be followed, then insistence of installing CCTV in all areas to supposedly catch hold of the wrong doers will not bode well.
The observation came pursuant to a petition by MM Nagar Sports Recreation Centre, praying for issuance of Mandamus, forbearing the police officials (Respondents) from interfering with the day-to-day affairs and recreational activities, not involving any element of gambling of the petitioner society and its members at petitioner’s premises situated at Kancheepuram District.
After considering the submissions, Justice Ramasamy found that the provisions of the Public Gambling Act, 1867 was enacted to impose punishment for gaming and keeping of common gaming houses.
“Section 5 of the Act provides power to any Judicial Magistrate or any police officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police or Assistant Commissioner of Police who has a reason to believe that any place is used as a common gaming-house/ he may, by his warrant, give authority to any Police Officer not below the rank of Sub-Inspector, to enter with such assistance as may be found necessary, by night or by day, any such place, and to arrest all persons found therein and to seize all instruments of gaming and all moneys and securities for money and articles of value reasonably suspected to have been used or intended to be used for the purpose of gaming which are found therein, and to search all the parts of such place and also persons found therein”, noted the Single Judge.
Justice Ramasamy found that the intention of the Legislature was to penalize and punish persons who are involved in betting, wagering and playing games using money which are not games of skill.
However, despite sufficient safeguards being available under the Tamil Nadu Gaming Act, 1930, it was the stand of the Respondents that CCTVs have to be installed in all places of a Club since it was apprehended by the Police that in most of cases the offender would either try to escape from the scene of occurrence or destroy the evidence after moving to an area not covered under the CCTV, added the Single Judge.
At the same time, the High Court observed that branding every single person entering a club capable of committing an offence of gaming for profit/betting/wagering is indicative of the narrow and archaic mindset of the Police.
Prevention and detection of crime is the primary responsibility of the Police, but, to traverse beyond the legal framework and to presume that every person might commit an offence warranting the monitoring of each and every activity of an individual in a recreational club is something quite disturbing and this kind of a mindset of the Police appears to be the root cause for all human right violations and harassments that is taking place, added the Court.
Justice Ramasamy quoted the dissenting opinion of Justice Subba Rao in case of Kharak Singh v. State of U.P, AIR 1963 SC 1295, to highlight that installation and all time accessibility of CCTV’s would not only make right to privacy redundant but also offend and deprive one’s cherished right for the sake of an alleged offender who might be playing games for money or betting or wagering.
Therefore, the submission that CCTVs should be in all places except restrooms appears not to be a reasonable restriction as mandated under Clauses (2) to (6) of Article 19 of the Constitution, added the Single Judge.
However, observing that a balance has to be struck to protect an individual’s privacy and ensure that the offences are not committed inside the premises of the clubs/recreation centres, the High Court directed the petitioners to install within a reasonable period, CCTV cameras, at the places of entry and exit of the club and play areas wherein game(s) is / are played by the members.
The High Court also directed that the petitioner shall not permit any activity by any of its member(s), by indulging in gaming punishable under the Tamil Nadu Gaming Act, 1930 or the Public Gambling Act.
At the same time, the respondents police officials should not interfere with the lawful recreational activities carried on by the members of the petitioner’s – Club/Association, added the Court.