The Allahabad High Court has held that publication of the names/photographs of alleged criminals / accused persons other than “proclaimed offenders” and “fugitives” in law, on notice boards of police stations is a violation of the right to privacy and human dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution.
Following this ratio, Justices Vivek Agarwal and Pankaj Naqvi directed the Director General of Police (DGP) of Uttar Pradesh to remove the names/identities of top-10 criminals along with their criminal antecedents from the flysheet board from all the police stations. The Bench however clarified that the benefit of this verdict will not be given to any “proclaimed offenders and fugitives in law”.
The petitioners who are also siblings contended that they are relatives of a former member of the Parliament from Allahabad Constituency and due to political vendetta, they are being harassed by the police authorities by illegally publishing their names in the list of top-10 criminals of Police Station-Khuldabad.
They submitted that only one case was registered against each of them and it was on the basis of one case that their names were included under top 10 criminals. They argued in court that the three of them have suffered a violation of fundamental rights, and their names are being scandalised and propagated without following procedure established by law.
A circular/policy issued by the Uttar Pradesh government on July 6, 2020 was also assailed on the ground that it violates Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution because paragraph 2 of the policy provides for preparation of a list of “top 10 criminals” at each police station and district so as to help the police in keeping a tab on active, hardened and functional criminals.
Thereafter, the court framed three issues for consideration:
(i) Whether policy/circular is ultra vires of the provisions contained in Constitution of India especially Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution, Police Act, 1861 or UP Police Regulations?
(ii) Whether the policy/circular grants the right to the police authorities to publish names of so-called criminals/accused persons on the flysheet board of the concerned police station?
(iii) Whether the publication of names of such accused persons violates the right to privacy and dignity?
The judges gave separate but concurring opinions on the issues. On the first issue, the court relied on Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Private Limited Vs. Union of India AIR 1986 SC 515, to hold that the validity of any subordinate legislation can be challenged on the grounds of unreasonableness, vagueness or arbitrariness. It ruled that the policy per se does not suffer from the vice of ultra vires, because the aim and object of the policy is to keep the police updated of the activities of the criminals with a view to keep a better control on law-and-order situations.
“I have no hesitation to hold that policy/ circular in its content or language does not suffer from lack of competence. When tested within the four corners of the law laid down in the case of Indian Express Newspapers (supra), policy cannot be said to be the arbitrary, illegal or ultra vires of either the Constitution or the Police Act or the Police Regulations”, was held by the Bench.
On the second issue, whether the policy grants the Police the right to publish names, the court said that there is no provision in the circular nor any of the provisions contained in the police regulations, the Police Act or the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), to publish list of identified top 10 criminals and mafia elements either on the flysheet board of the concerned police station or anywhere else.
On the third question of dignity and privacy, Justice Vivek Agarwal said that: “The sanctity of privacy lies in its functional relationship with dignity. This judgment (KS Puttaswamy) lays down that privacy of an individual is an essential aspect of dignity. Privacy represents the core of the human personality, which is part of a broader concept of liberty. Dignity is an entitlement of a constitutionally protected interest in itself. Dignity and freedom are intertwined and facilitate each other.”
He added: “it is apparent that neither socially nor politically it is desirable to curtail human dignity, which is infringed when names of accused persons are displayed on the flysheet board of the police station concerned or anywhere else without there being any proclamation issued against them under Section 82 Cr.PC. Thus, this practice of putting the names on the flysheet board is derogatory to the concept of human dignity and privacy and therefore Reference Question No. iii is answered in affirmative that publication of names of accused persons violates their right to privacy and dignity.”
Justice Pankaj Naqvi penned down his own opinion (concurring) on this issue. He referred to the teachings of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Immanuel Kant, French Philosopher Charles Renouvier and international law to emphasise on the idea of dignity. “A welfare State is governed by rule of law. The approach of the Apex Court in respecting and upholding the dignity of an individual, whether he be an accused or a convict, is both pragmatic and sensitive”, he noted.
He observed that, “Sensitization is an important aspect of policing as the Police being in the forefront to maintain law and order are expected to strictly uphold the rule of law. A police force sans sensitivity could play havoc with the life and liberty of an individual including his/her dignity. Dignity is neither class centric nor an elitist concept. It is inherent in all individuals as human beings. Article 21 encompasses all shades of dignity as a necessary concomitant of liberty.”
Justice Naqvi finally said that the circular of DG (Police) dated July 6, last year cannot be faulted, “but the action of its officers in disclosing the identity of petitioners in police stations in public gaze is absolutely unwarranted and uncalled for as being violative of Article 21 of the Constitution.”
The judgment may be read here: