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Clicking photos of police station doesn’t violate Official Secrets Act: Bombay High Court

Solapur man was booked under Official Secrets Act for clicking photo of police station. HC said cops invoking section 3 of OSA without ‘application of mind’ is a ‘serious concern’.

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New Delhi: The Bombay High Court, while quashing an FIR against a man Thursday said it was “shocked and appalled” at how a police officer could have booked a man under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) for the “alleged act of taking a photograph of the police station from outside”.

“The law cannot be misused/abused and must not be used as a tool for harassing or tormenting persons. It is the duty of the Police to protect people and act in accordance with law,” said a division bench of Justices Revati Mohite Dere and Prithviraj Chavan, besides imposing a fine of Rs 25,000 on the State to be paid to the petitioner, which may be recovered from the salaries of the police officers who invoked the OSA in this case.

The matter pertains to a case registered at Akluj police station in Solapur last July against a local — under section 3 (spying) of the Official Secrets Act, 1923 — who was later chargesheeted under the same section on 12 August 2021 for clicking a photograph of the police station from outside. 

According to the HC order dated 8 December, a copy of which is with ThePrint, the petitioner was called to the Akluj police station in connection with another case lodged against him there. The petitioner had told the court that he was booked for using his mobile phone to take photographs of the police station from outside while the head constable — who is also the first respondent in the case — was writing down complaints.

“Prima facie, it appears to have been malafidely invoked by the concerned Police. By no stretch of imagination, section 3 could have been invoked in the facts of the present case. It is pertinent to note, that the definition of ‘prohibited place’ as defined in section 2(8) of the Act, is an exhaustive definition, which does not specifically include ‘Police Station’ as one of the places or establishments,” the court said in its order.

It went further to add that the invocation of section 3 of the Act can have “drastic consequences on the person against whom it is invoked” since it could impact one’s reputation, job and career. “It cannot be lightly invoked, to jeopardize someone’s life and career. Law cannot be misused or abused and must not be used as a tool for harassing or tormenting a person.”

The bench also expressed concern over how FIRs were being filed under Section 3 of the OSA by the police without “application of mind” — which it termed a “serious concern”. To that effect, the court ordered that a copy of its order be sent to the Maharashtra Director General of Police (DGP), Mumbai police commissioner and state home department to ensure that appropriate steps are taken to prevent the misuse of the Official Secrets Act. 

“It is also open for the Authorities concerned, to consider whether a senior high ranking level officer be informed when an F.I.R under the Official Secrets Act is lodged, in matters concerning the Police Station, to curb misuse of the Act,” the order stated. 

Pointing out that, in order to attract provisions of the OSA, the incident in question has to take place in a “prohibited place”, the HC noted that the police station does not qualify as one.

“Registration of the offence as against the petitioner, in the facts, is clearly an abuse of the process of law and if not quashed, would lead to serious miscarriage of justice, which cannot be countenanced,” the court ruled.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

Also Read: Take a walk by the Bombay High Court. It’s no longer just a place to go for a fight


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