Police station not included in ‘prohibited place’ under Official Secrets Act says Bombay HC; quashes offence against Wardha man – Legal Firms

MUMBAI: A police station is not defined as a ‘prohibited place’ under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) said the Bombay high court quashing a criminal case of ‘spying’ against a man in Wardha for having “secretly” shot a video in 2018 of discussions there to resolve two inter-connected disputes.

He was having disputes with his wife on one hand and with a neighbouring agricultural land owner, on the other.

A bench of Justices Manish Pitale and V S Menezes, passing the judgment said the OSA which sets out ‘penalties for spying’ requires an offence to be at a ‘prohibited place’. The definition of ‘prohibited place’ as given in section 2(8) of the OSA is “exhaustive’’ and “does not specifically include Police Station’’ within its fold, said the HC.

The offence involving acts prejudicial to safety and interest of the State attracts 3 years to 14 years’ imprisonment.

In March 2018, a police officer had accused a Wardha resident of secretly video recording proceedings at the police station while attempts were being made to settle two “inter-se disputes”. The officer lodged the first information Report (FIR) saying that such filming at a police station was an offence under section 3 (penalties for spying) of the OSA. The law dates back to 1923.

.The police filed its chargesheet in November 2019. The case was pending before a court in Wardha.

Last year, the accused Ravindra Upadyay, 40, approached the HC and sought quashing of the FIR and his prosecution.

On July 26, the Nagpur Bench of the HC allowed his plea and quashed the FIR and the criminal case pending before the trial court. It observed that the police record showed that there was a dispute between Upadyay and his wife on one hand and the owner of an adjoining agricultural field on the other. At Upadhyay’s behest a non-cognizable offence was registered against the land owner. The police officer told Upadhyay that on the basis of a cross complaint by the owner, it was likely that an offence would be registered against him and his wife. Both sides were thus present at the police station to resolve the disputes and that’s when Upadyay made the recording of the discussions.

The HC also noted that in the case before it, based on the FIR allegation and witness statements, no ingredient of an offence of spying is made out against Upadyay.

The HC referred to section 3 of OSA which makes it an offence if any person , for purposes prejudicial to the safety or interest of the State, either approaches, inspects, passes over or is in the vicinity of or enters any prohibited place; or makes any sketch, plan model or note which is calculated or intended to be useful to an enemy or obtains, collects, records, publishes or communicates to someone else any secret official code or password or information useful to an enemy, or may affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, its security and friendly relations with foreign States.

The Act says If the offence is committed in relation to any work of defence, arsenal, naval, military or air force establishment or station, mine, minefield, factory, dockyard, camp, ship or aircraft or otherwise in relation to the naval, military or air force.

The definition of ‘prohibited place’ under Section 2(8) Includes: any work of defence, arsenal, naval, military or air force establishment or station, mine, minefield, camp, ship or aircraft belonging to, or occupied by or on behalf of, Government, any military telegraph or telephone so belonging or occupied, any wireless or signal station or office so belonging or occupied and any factory, dockyard or other place so belonging or occupied and used for the purpose of building, repairing, making or storing any munitions of war, or any sketches, plans, models or documents relating thereto, or for the purpose of getting any metals, oil or minerals of use in time of war;

It includes more places and also any place belonging to or used for the government that the Centre has declared, by a notification, to be a ‘prohibited place’ on the ground that its information or damage to it would be useful to an enemy.

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