Right to privacy is a Fundamental Right, a 9-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court decided today. The contentious issue had emerged while SC was hearing a batch of petitions challenging Centre’s decision to make Aadhaar mandatory for availing benefits of several government-sponsored social welfare schemes.
Last month, the top court had decided to set up the nine-judge bench to examine the correctness of two apex court judgements delivered
in the cases of Kharak Singh and M P Sharma. Both cases were decided by six and eight judge benches respectively. The judgements delivered in 1960 and 1950 had said the right to privacy was not a fundamental right.
Here’s what the top court had observed in the two cases:
MP Sharma and Ors vs. Satish Chandra, District Magistrate, Delhi, and Ors. (1954)
The case related to search and seizure of documents of some Dalmia group companies following a probe into affairs of Ms Dalmia Jain Airways Ltd, a group concern, which was registered in July 1946 but liquidated in June 1952. The probe hinted at malpractices within the company and also indications that attempts were made to conceal from shareholders the actual state of affairs by submitting false accounts and balance sheets. Police registered a FIR was on November 19, 1953, and a request was made to the District Magistrate, Delhi, for search warrants.
The DM issued the warrants, and searches were carried out at 34 places belonging to the group.
In their writ petitions under article 32 before the Supreme Court, the aggrieved parties challenged the constitutional validity of the searches saying their private records were taken away. They also claimed that the searches violated their fundamental rights under Articles 19(1)(f) — right to acquire, hold and dispose of property — and 20(3) — protection against self-incrimination.
However, the court observed, “A search and seizure is, therefore, only a temporary interference with the right to hold the premises searched and the articles seized. Statutory regulation in this behalf is necessary and reasonable restriction cannot per se be considered to be unconstitutional. The damage, if any caused by such temporary interference if found to be in excess of legal authority is a matter for redress in other proceedings.”
The court further said, “fundamental right to privacy, analogous to the American Fourth Amendment, we have no justification to import it, into a totally different fundamental right.”
Kharak Singh vs. the State of UP and Ors. (of 1962)
The case was about a petitioner, who was earlier released due to lack of evidence against him in a dacoity case. The police later opened a “history sheet” against him and also put him on a surveillance. The aggrieved petitioner approached the apex court claiming infringement of his fundamental rights. In his writ petition, Singh claimed the surviellance violated his fundamental rights under Articles 19(1)(d) — right to freedom of movement — and 21 — protection of life and personal liberty.
However, the top court observed, “The right of privacy is not a guaranteed right under our Constitution and therefore the attempt to ascertain the movements of an individual which is merely a manner in which privacy is invaded is not an infringement of a fundamental right guaranteed by Part III.”