The Bombay high court on Thursday said the government should frame rules to ensure that the police’s powers to search premises do not result in infringement of right to privacy of individuals.
“Police shall not exercise their powers so as to infringe on the right to privacy,” said the division bench of justice Abhay Oka and justice Girish Kulkarni.
“There has to be guidelines for exercise of such powers.”
The judges were hearing a public interest litigation raising concern about the “moral policing” witnessed during raids on a hotel at Malwani in Malad in which several couples were apprehended, and publicly humiliated.
As soon as the PIL was called out for hearing, the court sought to know from public prosecutor Sandip Shinde if there were any guidelines or departmental instructions about exercise of police powers to search premises. Shinde responded saying Section 165 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which empowers police to search any premises on apprehension of immoral activities being committed there, there was a safeguard — to furnish copy of the search papers to the nearest magistrate.
The judges, however, felt that the section leaves the matter to be decided at the police station-level and instead some senior officer should be entrusted with the responsibility to ensure that the exercise of the powers does not result in infringement of privacy.
“It should not be left to the police station-level, because if right to privacy is infringed, that damage is done forever,” said the judges.
Shinde then sought time to take instructions in this regard, and accordingly, the court adjourned the hearing on the PIL filed by Khar resident Sumeer Sabharwal, who has alleged that the police raid on Sundry Hotels was a blatant violation of fundamental rights of the persons occupying rooms in the hotel and if such high-handed actions were left unquestioned it will bring in a very dangerous trend leaving individuals in a state of perpetual uncertainty and fear at the hands of police.
According to the PIL, on August 6, 2015, personnel attached to Malwani police station barged into the rooms of the hotel and dragged out several couples.
The couples were apprehended and brought to Malwani police station where they were illegally detained for several hours and family members of some of the apprehended persons were called and they were humiliated in the presence of the family members, it adds.
“The action of the police was intrusive and seriously over-reached privacy of citizens infringing upon their freedom of movement, as guaranteed by the Constitution of India,” states the petition.
“There is no provision in law authorising the act of police,” it stated, adding, “A hotel room hired by the guest becomes his private room and even the hotel staff cannot walk into the room without permission of the guest.”