Filing right to information (RTI) applications for various kinds of information on closed circuit TV (CCTV) camera installations in public places is not uncommon—and information commissioners giving different orders, is also not uncommon. In an order on Thursday, chief information commissioner (CIC) Yashwant Sinha chose to deny information to the applicant who had asked for information only about the location of the installation of the CCTV cameras in Delhi and not grabs of any captured movements in it.
Mr Sinha, in his order, stated that he is in agreement with the Delhi police not providing the information. He observed that “the purpose of installing CCTV cameras in police stations is to ensure surveillance and security and disseminating of information regarding their positioning would not only hamper the day-to-day official activities of the respondent (Delhi Police), but it also affects safety and security of other persons.”
Quoting the exemption clauses, Mr Sinha further observed, “It is plausible that the information sought in the RTI application stands squarely covered by the exemption clauses contained in Sections 8(1) (a) and (g) of the RTI Act. Hence, no further intervention of the Commission is required in the instant matter.”
Shree Pravasi Meet, the RTI applicant, as well as Joginder Singh, assistant public information officer (PIO) of Delhi police, were present through the video conference.
The applicant had sought the following information:
• Disclose the number of police stations, district-wise in the Union Territory of Delhi.
• The exact amount allocated by the finance ministry/ home ministry for installation of TV cameras in police stations of Delhi. When was this amount allocated?
• Disclose the total number of CCTV cameras installed in each and every police station.
• Disclose the recording capacity in terms of days and months of CCTV camera. Do these cameras have a night vision facility?
• Details of the positioning of the earlier installed CCTVs.
• How many police stations are currently without CCTV cameras?
• How many CCTV cameras have been purchased so far and when were they purchased?
• Who was given the contract to install CCTVs?
He reiterated the above points during the hearing. APIO Singh argued that providing information on the positioning of CCTV cameras installed in the police stations cannot be disclosed due to security reasons as “several deadly crime syndicates involved in gang wars operate in their area…divulging the information regarding the positioning of cameras might result in an unwarranted invasion of the privacy of third parties involved in protection of children from sexual offences (POCSO) cases and crimes against women and accordingly such information is exempted from disclosure under Sections 8(1) (a) and (g) of the RTI Act.”
As per the Section 2 (f) of the RTI Act, (f) “information” means any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, and data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force.” Hence, CCTV footage comes under it.
In a CIC decision in 2018, the RTI applicant who had asked for the CCTV footage of a post office had got a favourable order. In the CIC, Professor Sridhar Acharyulu observed that “On perusal of the records and submission made by the respondent authority, the Commission notes that the CPIO, without application of mind, denied the information on point nos. 1 and 4 under section 8 (1) (h) of the RTI Act. Since video recording is covered under information as per Section 2(f) of the RTI Act. If the CCTV footage is held by the respondent authority, it is his duty to share it, except when the denial is justified under any provisions of exemptions mentioned in Section 8 of the RTI Act.”
Prof Acharyulu had sent a show-cause notice to the CPIO for a penalty.
In the case of an RTI applicant seeking video footage of the Dadar overbridge in 2016, CIC Amitava Bhattacharyya, during his second appeal hearing in 2018, had slammed the CPIO for deleting the footage three days after the RTI application was filed.
He had stated, “The respondent had submitted that the said CCTV footage was auto-deleted after 30 days. The Commission observed that this is the issue of destruction of record after the RTI application was filed as the appellant had filed his RTI application on 17.08.2016 asking for the CCTV footage dated 13.08.2016 i.e. after 3 days the footage was recorded and before its auto-deletion period. Destruction of records during the pendency of an RTI application would attract a penalty under section 20
of the RTI Act. A show-cause notice is issued to PIO, Mumbai to explain how and under what circumstances the said footage was allowed to be destroyed when an RTI application regarding the same footage was filed on 17.08.2016 after 3 days of the recording of the footage.”
In the above case, the RTI applicant had asked for a copy (hard or soft) of the CCTV footage dated 13 August 2016 from 7.30pm to 8.15pm of the foot over bridge (FOB) of Dadar railway station (the mid portion of the FOB).
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(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)