Recording video inside police station not ‘spying’, rules Bombay HC

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A police station is not defined as a ‘prohibited place’ under the Official Secrets Act (OSA), said the Bombay high court, quashing a criminal case of ‘spying’ against a man in Wardha for having “secretly” shot a video in 2018 of discussions there to resolve two inter-connected disputes, reported Times of India.

The man was having disputes with his wife on one hand and with a neighbouring agricultural land owner on the other.

A bench of Justices Manish Pitale and V S Menezes, passing the judgment on 26 July, said the OSA, which sets out penalties for spying, requires an offence to be at a ‘prohibited place’.

The definition of ‘prohibited place’ as given in Section 2(8) of the OSA is “exhaustive” and “does not specifically include police station” within its fold, said the HC.

As per the report, the offence involving acts prejudicial to the safety and interest of the State attracts three years’ to 14 years’ imprisonment.

In March 2018, a police officer had accused the Wardha resident of secretly video-recording proceedings at the police station while attempts were being made to settle two “inter-se disputes”. The officer lodged the FIR saying such filming at a police station was an offence under Section 3 (penalties for spying) of the OSA. The law dates back to 1923.

The police filed a chargesheet in November 2019. The case was pending before a court in Wardha. Last year, the accused Ravindra Upadyay, 40, approached the HC and sought quashing of the FIR and his prosecution, reads the report by Times of India.

The HC observed that the police record showed there was a dispute between Upadyay and his wife on one hand and the owner of an adjoining field on the other. At Upadyay’s behest, an NC was registered against the landowner. The police officer told Upadyay that on the basis of a cross-complaint by the owner, it was likely an offence would be registered against him and his wife.

As per the report, both sides were present at the police station to resolve disputes and that’s when Upadyay made the recording of the discussions, the HC said.

The HC also referring to the Act and noting what constitutes an offence under Section 3 noted that in the case before it, based on FIR and witness statements, no ingredient of offence of spying is made out against Upadyay and said it was a “fit case” to quash the FIR and criminal case, reads the report.

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