Author: Yug Pratik (The ICFAI University, Dehradun)
It is the foremost responsibility of the authorities of the state to keep its citizenry informed regarding the mechanisms devised and enforced for their welfare and for the better administration of the state. Further, they should also keep a check on several prevalent and possible malpractices, and must expose and eliminate them at the earliest. No democratic government can survive without accountability and the basic postulate of accountability is that the people should have the information about the working of the government.
In India, the crucial task of fetching necessary information and keeping the masses informed regarding the functioning of the government is largely undertaken by the ‘media houses’. This very task, within its broad ambit, comprises of ‘sting operations’. Sting operations include high-stake activities wherein information is garnered through sub rosa activities. Such operations are generally conducted by the media personnel and undercover law enforcement officers to nab the offenders red-handed and thus, gather significant evidence against their misdeeds. Sting operations are carried out quite confidentially and certain findings resulting through them are kept undisclosed. It is a method designed and exercised to nab an offender while the offence is being committed, through means of deception and on the basis of sound prior information.
Sting operations are classified into positive and negative sting operations on the basis of their purpose. The former one is conducted in the affirmative interest of the society and aids in lifting the veil from several malfunctions of the government and private institutions, while the latter one harms the society and its individuals by unnecessarily violating the privacy of the citizens.
Stand of the judiciary
The Delhi High Court recently held that conducting sting operation by any citizen is a legitimate exercise. Although there is no clear law which specifically allows or legalizes sting operation, but the right to conduct sting operation can be derived under Article 51A(b) of the Constitution of India. This particular provision imposes a duty upon the citizens to cherish and follow the noble ideals that inspired our national struggle for freedom. The Court was of the opinion that in order to fulfill this duty, crime and corruption have to be dealt with heavy hands and by an organized machinery devised for the purpose; consequently legalizing sting operations in India.
Time and again, Courts have regarded the ‘freedom of press’ as an indispensable part of law. In Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras, The Supreme Court held that “the freedom of press comes under freedom of speech and expression which is granted to both citizens and non-citizens.” Conducting sting operation may be an exhibition of right under freedom of speech and expression but, it is also bound to respect the genuine aspects of privacy. Though freedom of speech and expression includes freedom of press, it is not an absolute right.
Although it has been heavily criticized for the infringement of privacy rights now guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, but a sting operation backed by a genuine motive to create awareness and bring down the existing nefarious practices should be encouraged or at least, should not be completely prohibited.
Though sting operations are considered to be a legitimate exercise, their execution and implementation, and conduct of the individuals involved in it should be regulated by specific legal enactments. Lack of codified statutory provisions for governing the purpose and conduct of sting operations points highlights the lacuna in the legal system. Moreover, a line has to be drawn between sting operations that invade privacy and those which expose errors of the governmental machinery. This can be thoroughly realized by the formation and enforcement of a guiding and binding statute. Further, it should be ensured that such operations are backed by bona fide purposes and are aptly distinguishable from mere entrapments.
 S.P. Gupta v. Union of India, AIR 1982 SC 149.
 Aniruddha Bahal v. State, 2010 172 DLT 269.
 1950 SCR 594.
 Diganth Raj Sehgal, A Legal Analysis of a Sting Operation, IPLEADERS (Dec. 16, 2020), https://blog.ipleaders.in/legal-analysis-sting-operation/.