Say it will turn landlords into police informers and is a breach of privacy

Lawyers argue that police have no authority to pass an order seeking details of tenants from landlords.

“It is an illegal order,” said S. Doraisamy, senior advocate, who contended that the police have no authority to pass such an order under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code and to proceed against landlords under Section 188 of Indian Penal Code for their failure to furnish details.

“How can the police commissioner apprehend danger from tenants? Except for the Velachery incident, they don't have anything else to show that a tenant has been involved in [some kind of illegal act or causing harm or danger to life],” he said, referring to the killing of five suspected bank robbers.

“Under Section 144 of Cr.P.C, an order that affects one's privacy cannot be passed. They can ask questions pertaining to addresses, previous residences and ID card numbers, but when they ask phone numbers and details of relatives, they cross the line. They are breaching privacy. There is a limit to asking personal details,” said Mr. Doraisamy.

The advocate, however, was not against the exercise of compiling data on tenants. “The State should be in a position to know where a person is coming from. The police is an instrumentality of the State… they should be in a position to know details,” he said.

Criminal lawyer K.S. Dinakaran, who termed the order as “not lawful”, said: “You must have reasonable belief to pass such an order. This is a classic example of misuse of power. Use of Section 144 of Cr.P.C. in this case is tantamount to misuse of power because you must have reasons to believe that a place is being misused. There should be more than just a vague suspicion in order to use this section.”

He said that just because the suspected bank robbers happened to be tenants, it did not mean that all tenants are of suspicious character. “You cannot make every house-owner a police informer. There are house-owners who are lottery sellers, who are illicit liquor dealers. Have the police taken down their addresses? Whether police can administratively register people is doubtful,” he said.

Noting that the Constitution permits freedom of movement and speech for all citizens, Mr. Dinakaran said: “If you are a law-abiding citizen, you can go to any State without permit or licence or passport, of course subject to reasonable restriction. It is a democratic set-up.”

Commissioner of Police J.K. Tripathy, however, contended that there was nothing illegal about the order. “The Delhi Police order calling for details also invokes Section 144 of Cr.P.C. You cannot call the order illegal.”

Advocate and People's Union for Civil Liberties National Secretary V. Suresh termed the police's demand for information about tenants as unconstitutional and an illegal exercise of law. “After generating a public sense of fear, they are using the cover of crime to collect information. The police have created a false fear psychosis as a means of “manufacturing consent”. There is no consent as such. They are criminalising non-property owning citizens of this country.” Mr. Suresh said: “We are extremely apprehensive about sensitive personal information being handed over to the police. The long history of human rights violation by the police includes false implication of people in pending unsolved cases. There is no guarantee that the police will not use this information to falsely implicate people.” Former Advocate-General P.S. Raman said that from a security perspective, the police directive was called for.

“We furnish details to the IT department. Even if there is 80 per cent compliance, it would be a deterrent for terrorists and anti-social elements. If a landlord furnishes details about a person and the latter turns out to be a terrorist, at least the landlord remains above suspicion.” However, he said the use of Section 188 of IPC, which deals with ‘disobedience to order promulgated by public servant' to penalise landlords who do not furnish details, might be going too far.

More In: Chennai