A youngster from Madhya Pradesh (MP), Shishupal Jatav, who was allegedly beaten up at the Shivpuri police station of Shivpuri town, decided to use the Right to Information (RTI) Act to get a copy of the closed circuit television (CCTV) coverage that would show the physical assault on him, to further his case against the police.
The public information officer (PIO), then the additional superintendent of police, responded in writing, explaining that the CCTV footage had been automatically deleted after 15 days and, therefore, couldn't be provided.
Mr Jatav got some solace from the Madhya Pradesh state information commissioner (SIC) Rahul Singh’s order last week (for the larger good), though his record has been erased.
Mr Singh, who observed in his order of 7 November 2023, that 80% of RTI applicants seeking copies of the CCTV footage in various police stations of MP are denied information, has ordered that, as per section 19 (8) (a), they be preserved for a minimum of six months and, in case of an RTI request, the video footage should be conserved until the second appeal/complaint to the central information commission (CIC) hearing is over.
SIC Mr Singh, in his order, has directed the director general of police (DGP) of the state to ensure that, upon receipt of the RTI application seeking the CCTV footage, the officer responsible for RTI, must immediately preserve the recorded CCTV footage until the RTI application and subsequent appeals have been adjudicated.
Expressing concern over the violation of the Supreme Court's guidelines regarding CCTV systems in police stations of the state, Mr Singh observed in his order that “These denials are based on various reasons including the CCTV footage was automatically erased, power failures, or issues with the CCTV digital video recorder (DVR).”
When contacted by Moneylife, Mr Singh stated that “In cases of potential human rights violations within police stations, it is common for RTI applicants to seek access to CCTV footage. Such access is not just a matter of administrative procedure; it is a fundamental and constitutional right for the victims, protected under Article 21 and human rights principles. Despite multiple directives from the Supreme Court, SC, accessing CCTV footage from police stations through the Right to Information (RTI) remains a formidable challenge.”
The order pointed out two significant SC rulings in this regard. Referring to the Paramveer Singh Saini vs Baljit Singh case, he pointed out that the Court had mandated the preservation of CCTV footage for a period of six months. Additionally, the Court's decision in the DK Basu vs State of West Bengal case made it obligatory to have an independent committee regularly review CCTV footage from police stations and jails and file corresponding reports. Mr Singh observed in his order that, even in the face of these crucial SC directives, the state of affairs pertaining to CCTV records in police stations puts a question mark on the relevance of these SC orders.
Mr Jatav, the RTI applicant, who was present in the second appeal hearing, alleged that the deliberate destruction of the CCTV footage was an attempt to conceal evidence of an assault that had occurred within the police station. He complained that since he was assaulted inside the police station and the entire incident was recorded on CCTV at the police station, the police department deliberately let the recording be destroyed so that he lost access to the only incriminating evidence in this case. Mr Singh has sought a response from the then additional SP, Kamal Maurya, who is currently additional SP at Jabalpur.
Mr Singh, who carried out his own investigations, discovered that the footage was destroyed just one day prior to the additional SP's final decision to deny information. He ruled that “The protracted handling of the RTI application seems like a deliberate strategy to destroy the CCTV records. This destruction would potentially benefit the police personnel against whom the assault allegations have been made.”
The reason why CCTV footage falls under RTI:
- Since the CCTV footage is being stored in the DVR, it is classified as a record and information.
- CCTV recordings are well within the ambit of the RTI Act under section 2 (f), section 2 (i), (iv) and 2 (j) (iv).
- Given the categorisation of CCTV footage as a form of record, the commission possesses the authority to oversee the maintenance and management of such records under Section 19 (8) (4) of the Act.
SIC Mr Singh has warned of penalties to the PIO in case of such lapses in the future. He has stated in his order that “Following this commission's order, any public information officer who cites delay as the reason for the destruction of CCTV footage in response to an RTI application will be held accountable. Such an officer can face penalties under section 20 of the Act for wilfully allowing the destruction of records.”
(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".)