Read Order: Chief Justice N.K. Sodhi v. The Union of India and others 

Vivek Gupta

Chandigarh, July 22, 2021: The Punjab and Haryana High Court has dismissed a plea filed by former Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court saying the high-resolution CCTV cameras installed at the official residence of the Chief Justice of the High Court here, which is across the road from his house, are an invasion into his privacy. 

The High Court said a perusal of the report filed before it by the DGP, Chandigarh, in a sealed cover showed 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 the petitioner, but also of other houses in the vicinity is maintained. 

“We are, thus, satisfied that the discomfort shown by the petitioner on installation of cameras is misplaced,” said a bench of Justice Jaswant Singh and Justice Sant Parkash while disposing of the plea.

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

In his petition, Justice Sodhi 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”.

Justice Sodhi’s petition had further mentioned that these cameras were 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 plea said.

He also mentioned in his plea that there are six other Judges living in House No. 23, 24, 25, 27, 29 and 31 of Sector 4, Chandigarh, which are officially earmarked houses for judges of the High Court. Each one of these houses has CRPF security. Further, the house adjoining the residence of the Chief Justice – House No. 37 — is earmarked for the Director, PGIMER who also has government security. 

The petition said that further, the second house (adjoining Director, PGIMER) is the residence of Additional Chief Secretary, Haryana who again has a large contingent of security personnel. In addition, there is usually a Chandigarh Police PCR van patrolling the area during night hours and early morning hours. Thus, there is ample security for the Chief Justice, the petition said.

It added, “The petition respectfully submits that the installation and use of the high resolution sophisticated CCTV cameras at the official residence of the Hon’ble Chief Justice of this Hon’ble Court is a direct invasion of the privacy of the petitioner….Individual dignity and privacy are linked…The right to privacy cannot be subject to the ever growing possibilities of technological and psychological intrusions by the state. Further, the right to privacy is not lost merely because the individual is in a public place”.

The petitioner 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”.

Deciding that matter, the bench stated that the matter was taken up with the Director General of Police, Union Territory, Chandigarh on receipt of letter dated 17.05.2021 by petitioner and in response thereto, it has been intimated by the DGP that after spot inspection, examining the footage and working of the CCTVs installed at the official residence of the Chief Justice, it was found that none of the cameras installed at the house cover the houses on opposite side of the street and only cover the area upto the road berm of House Nos. 34 and 36, Sector 4, Chandigarh.

The bench further stated that in order to quell any doubts about any such alleged misuse in future by any security agency and in order to satisfy the HC as to whether any such direction is required to be issued by it, the bench perused the report sent by DGP, U.T, Chandigarh, which was brought before it in a sealed cover.

“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,” stated the bench.

It added that “upon hearing our observations, learned counsel for the parties are ad idem that nothing more is required to be pursued in the instant case”.

“As far as the 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 Chandigarh Administration to take a decision as and when the situation in the city warrants,” the bench concluded.

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