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Right to Privacy to not extend beyond reasonable expectations: Kerala High Court

Right to privacy is a fundamental right given to every citizen but enlarging the scope of it even beyond reasonable expectations will only cause utter chaos because then everyone will start getting this right enforced, this was held in the writ appeal in the Kerala High Court against the single bench judgement in the same court dated 14.03.2020 reversing it by a division bench of Justice P.B. Suresh Kumar and Justice C.S. Sudha in the case of S.K. PAVITHRAN AND Ors V. LAIZY SANTOSH AND Ors [WA NO. 389 OF 2020]

In the present case there was a toddy shop that was located near the house of the petitioner, the petitioner alleged that the toddy shop was causing nuisance to her and her family so they complained to the commissioner to get the location of the shop changed as a result of which it was decided that until the shop is relocated the shop will continue to function there. Aggrieved by this the petitioner moved to the court where it was held by a single bench of Justice A. Muhammad Mustaque that “State is bound to take positive steps to prevent infringement of rights of citizens on account of granting licence to toddy shops” and stated that this is violating the privacy rights of the individuals. This writ petition was appealed and the matter was settled by a division bench that does nuisance caused by a toddy shop amount to infringement of right to privacy or not.

In the present case the Kerala High Court reversed the single bench judgement that said “anything and everything that affects the peaceful residence of a person would affect its privacy rights”. The court said “If privacy rights enforceable under the Constitution are expanded to this level, we are afraid that there would be utter chaos as regards the rights of others including the right to livelihood, for in the social set up of our country”. The division bench took the view taken in the landmark privacy judgement of K.S. Puttaswamy and came to the conclusion that “The right to privacy will not extend beyond that reasonable expectation”. The perspective taken by the division bench is fairer and more reasonable as compared to the perspective taken by the single judge bench, this is because while toddy shops do cause nuisance in residential areas because people tend to get drunk and cause trouble to others, this is not violation of privacy. Getting such incidents under the scope of violation of right of privacy sets a dangerous precedence because as per paragraph 423 of K.S. Puttaswamy V. Union of India right to privacy has been described as a “relational right” and such precedents only widen the scope to a limit that it even goes against the privacy judgement. The impugned judgement would have raised a lot of questions on the permissibility of current ongoing activities in residential areas and it would result in a lot of conflicts. Considering the scope laid by the privacy judgement and the scope of article 19 and article 21 of the constitution, the limitation established in the case is very essential. The division bench did not neglect or turn a blind eye towards the public nuisance and recognized the inconvenience caused to public and stated that while this is not a breach of right to privacy, this is public nuisance or breach of public peace upon the advice from the amicus curiae but stated that these have nothing to do with the right to privacy. It is fair to say that when there are rules to take care of public nuisance and breach of public peace then getting right to privacy in the picture was unreasonable.

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Judgment reviewed by Meenakshi Jena

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