Question of whether CCTV cameras can be installed inside spa and massage centres referred to Acting Chief Justice of Madras High Court

JUSTICE G.R. Swaminathan of the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court on Tuesday referred the question of whether CCTV cameras can be installed inside spa and massage centres in the state of Tamil Nadu before the Acting Chief Justice of the high court to consider constituting a larger bench to conclusively decide the matter.

Justice Swaminathan’s order came in response to a petition filed by V. Raveendran, who runs an Ayurvedic Treatment Center and Spa at Courtallam in Tenkasi District. The petition requested the high court to restrain the local police from interfering in the day-to-day running of the center, by referring to a similar order passed by Justice Swaminathan earlier this month, and requesting for an order along the same lines.

The aforementioned order from earlier this month had held that the installation of CCTV cameras in spas and massage parlours, on the basis of apprehension of immoral activity, is an “intrusion into the rights of individuals” and would amount to infringing their bodily autonomy. The order prohibited the police from interfering in the running of a spa center if it was being run lawfully, and if it had the requisite license and no objection certificate.

In that order, Justice Swaminathan had noted that he differed from an order from last month by Justice S.M. Subramaniam of the same high court, which directed the Tamil Nadu government to order all spa and massage therapy centres in the state to install CCTV cameras, and ensure these centres conduct their business in a transparent manner and avoid secluded or closed rooms which might harbour illegal activities. It had also directed the police authorities to initiate appropriate legal action on the basis of “reasonable suspicion”.

Justice Swaminathan had differed with the order, noting that installing CCTV cameras in the direct manner was a violation of Article 21 of the Constitution. He had opined that Justice Subramaniam’s directions violated the three-fold requirement of legality, legitimate aim and proportionality for invading one’s privacy, as laid out by the Supreme Court in its landmark Puttaswamy judgment of 2017.

He had also referred to a division bench judgment of the Madras High Court from August last year which held that the installation of CCTV cameras in the restroom and locker rooms of a workplace was not just objectionable, but impermissible, in light of Puttaswamy.

However, during the hearing of the instant petition by Raveendran on Tuesday, the state government’s counsel brought to Justice Swaminathan’s attention an article by The Print, which quotes senior advocate and Rajya Sabha member K.T.S. Tulsi as saying that this conflict between the two orders by coordinate benches of the high court must be resolved by a larger Bench. The article also brings out the legal quandary created by the two conflicting orders.

In view of the same, in the order made on Tuesday, Justice Swaminathan made the referral to the larger bench, while making it clear that he had only followed the Puttaswamy verdict, rendered by a nine-judge Constitutional bench of the Supreme Court, in his earlier order. At the same time, he granted the petitioner an interim injunction restraining the police from interfering with the day to day functioning of his centre, in light of the fact that the petitioner had employed only qualified therapists at the centre.

Click here to read the order of the Madras High Court.

The Leaflet