The Bombay High Court recently slammed and pulled up the police for misusing and registering FIR under Section 3 of the Official Secrets Act against those video graphing of discussions in the Police Station or taking photographs within the Police Station as 'Police Station' does not fall under 'prohibited place'.

The Bench of Justice Revati Mohite Dere and Justice Prithviraj K. Chavan observed that to attract the provisions of the Act, the place where the incident took place should be a 'prohibited place' as per Section 2(8) of the Act and the 'Police Station' was not a prohibited place and further held that "Registration of the offence under Section 3 of the Official Secrets Act, 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 Bench further said that "We regularly come across cases where F.I.R's are being registered by the Police, under section 3 of the Official Secrets Act, without application of mind, which is a matter of serious concern i.e for acts done in the Police Station, video graphing of discussions in the Police Station, taking photographs within the Police Station, etc, more particularly, when a 'Police Station' is not a prohibited place."

In this case, the petitioner sought for quashing of an FIR for the alleged offence punishable under Section 3 of the Act, for taking photographs of the police station, when the petitioner was called there in connection with an FIR against him.

"We are shocked and appalled, how the concerned Police Officer could have even lodged an offence for the alleged act of taking photograph of the Police Station, from outside, under the Official Secrets Act, as against the petitioner." said the Court.

Section 3 of the Act (penalties for spying) provided punishment for acts, prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State acts affecting the sovereignty and integrity of India. It provided punishment for spying at a 'prohibited place' under section 2(8) of the Act.

Advocate Prasad Avhad appeared for the petitioner and contended that the petitioner clicked the said photograph only to show that the Police personnel and the persons with whom there was a family dispute were communicating with each other in a friendly manner.

APP J.P. Yagnik appeared for the respondent-State.

The Court relied upon the decision of the High Court in the case of Ravindra Shitalrao Upadyay Vs. State of Maharashtra through P.S.O Sawangi (Meghe) 2022 SCC Online Bom 2015 wherein it was held that "even video recording made on the mobile phone within the Police Station whilst discussions are carried out would not attract ingredients of section 3 of the Official Secrets Act."

The Court further said that the invocation of section 3 of the Act, could have drastic consequences on the person against whom it was invoked. "It could impact one's reputation, job, career and so on. It cannot be lightly invoked, to jeopardize someone's life and career. 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."

The Court further said that prima facie, it appeared that Section 3 had been invoked in a mala fide manner by the concerned Police because it could not comprehend that how an FIR could have been registered on the basis of the said photograph, that too, for a serious offence like Section 3 of the Act.

The Court further quashed the FIR and the chargesheet filed by the police and directed the State to pay costs of Rs. 25,000/- to the petitioner within four weeks and that the amount should be recovered from the salary of the persons responsible to invoke Section 3.

The Court also said that it was open for the Director General of Police, Commissioner of Police, Mumbai, and the Home Department, to consider whether a senior high-ranking level officer is 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.

Accordingly, the petition was disposed of and the Matter was kept for recording compliance with the payment of costs and the steps taken for recovery of costs from the erring officers on February 15, 2023

Cause Title- Rohan Tukaram v. Somnath Haribabu Koli

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