Nagpur-based lawyer Nihalsing B Rathod has sent a legal notice to high-ranking police officials of the state government and the Additional Chief Secretary alleging his profiling, surveillance and breach of privacy at the hands of the state police.
Rathod is representing some of the accused in the Bhima Koregaon case and was allegedly subject to surveillance last year by Pegasus spyware. He was informed by Whatsapp that his phone had been bugged using Pegasus.
In his legal notice, Rathod has said the police wanted the details in a format they called ANNEXURE B which had 33 entries under which information was sought, including his bank account details, passport no., driving license no., voter id., social media accounts, job profile, facial structure, age, height and built, costumes, details of habits, name, address and contact numbers of friends, colleagues, if he was in contact with foreigner lawyers, if he was against government machinery, whether he was casteist, name contact and address of his personal assistant, and any other information.
Rathod said in his legal notice that on July 7 he received a call from one constable attached to the Pratap Nagar Police Station from her mobile number. She told Rathod that she had instructions from the special branch to collect information from him to fill up a form and that she would like him to visit the police station or would be able to visit his residence for the purpose.
When Rathod asked the woman officer whether there was any criminal case against him, the officer said there was none, but that she had directions from her superiors to collect the information as part of their intelligence.
Rathod in his notice claims that shortly thereafter he received a call from another constable claiming to be attached to Sitabuldi Police Station, Nagpur, at 11:36 AM. He referred to one of Rathod’s distant relatives to establish a connection and then asked Rathod if he could meet him to fill up a form with the information on him.
According to Rathod, at around 1 pm on July 7, three officers arrived at his office. They told him that their superiors had asked them to get the information filled up in the form. They referred to the form as ANNEXURE B. When Rathod again inquired as to the purpose of the enquiry, the officer said they were just following the command of their superior officer.
When Rathod insisted on a copy of the order passed by their seniors, the three officials showed him a document signed by Dr Basawraj Teli, Deputy Commissioner Police, Special Branch Nagpur along with Sanjay Kumar, Additional Director General of Police, Special Teams.
The document stated that in order to compile a book on the lines of a “Union War Book”, information in three Annexures was required. The list appended to it contained several names, including names of prominent activists, politicians, and some lawyers.
Rathod has asserted in his notice that such data collection by the police amounted to a gross violation of his fundamental right to privacy.
“It’s a blatant form of surveillance by the police and hence an unlawful attempt to gather personal data with the intention of trapping me in criminal cases”, the legal notice states.
Rathod has alleged this was also an attempt to deter him from carrying out his lawful activities including representing his clients.
“It is no secret that I represent some of the accused in the Bhima Koregaon case and for that reason also this surveillance is being carried out to frighten me away”, he says.