In view of Right to Information (RTI) requests for CCTV footage from police stations, the Madhya Pradesh State Information Commission (SIC) has directed the State Director General of Police (DGP) that CCTV recordings of events inside the police stations must be preserved safely, according to a report by Bar & Bench. The order was in a case filed by Shishupal Jatav, a Shivpuri resident, who failed to procure CCTV evidence of the police’s alleged attack on him at a local police station, through an RTI request.
In approximately 80 of the cases, the state police declined Right to Information (RTI) requests regarding CCTV footage from police stations, the SIC noted. The reasons cited for not producing the requested information include automatic erasure of the CCTV clips, power failures, or other technical issues with the CCTV digital video recorder (DVR).
According to the report, the SIC has passed an order stating that the DGP must ensure that upon receipt of RTI requests seeking information about CCTV records, the concerned Public Information Officer (PIO) “must preserve the footages until the RTI application and subsequent appeals are decided.”
Importantly, the SIC noted that there are instances of human rights abuse inside police stations and in such cases, requests for CCTV evidence are linked to fundamental rights of the victim under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
Why it matters: The SIC’s observations in this case are important in view of the Supreme Court’s order in 2020 directing every state police department to install night-vision CCTV cameras in every police station in order to ensure “police accountability”. The Court had particularly highlighted that the move is also to oversee the treatment of citizens by the police during custody and interrogations.
The Court had also said that such CCTV footage must be made available to a person who is aggrieved of abuse in a police station. Given that police officials are delaying RTI requests in order to destroy the footage (for example, erasure of the footage as mentioned above), the SIC said that such acts would invite penalties on the Public Information Officer by the SIC under section 20 of the RTI Act.
At a time when the police rely heavily on CCTV technology for identifying citizens indulging in any offence, it becomes equally important to keep a check on abuse perpetrated by the police too. The SIC’s observations also underscore the relevance of RTI for accessing information about CCTVs deployed by the police, when there’s little information about its use by the police for establishing a surveillance system under the garb of security measures.
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