Police or investigating agency cant retain the passport

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUDICATURE AT MADRAS

DATED : 4.1.2008

CORAM :
THE HON’BLE MR.JUSTICE M.JEYAPAUL
CRL.O.P.No.34926 of 2007

Natarajkumar M/A 40
S/o Chandrasekaran
Apt3, GRN Srivaru
5 Palat Narayaniammal Road,
Mahalingapuram
Chennai 34 ..Petitioner

vs.

Deputy Superintendent of Police
CBI BS and FC
Bangalore
(Cr.No.5/E/2002) ..Respondent

Criminal Original Petition filed under Section 482 Cr.P.C. to direct the respondent to return the passport of the petitioner passport bearing No.B2775046 issued on 26.9.2000 valid upto 25.9.2010 to the petitioner.
For petitioner : Mr.B.Kumar
Senior Counsel
for M/s R.Loganathan

For respondent : Mr.N.Chandrasekaran
for C.B.I.

O R D E R
The petition is filed seeking a direction to the respondent to return the passport of the petitioner bearing No.B2775046.

2. The petitioner who is ranked as A3 faces a case for offences punishable under section 120B read with section 420, 467, 468 and 471 of the Indian Penal Code. The charge as against the petitioner is that he being a party to a criminal conspiracy hatched in the company of other Directors of M/s Pan Clothing and Consolidated Co.Ltd., during the period from 1997-2000 forged the documents offered as collateral security and cheated the Punjab and Sind Bank to the tune of Rs.4,297 lakhs. During the course of investigation the respondent police seized the passport of the petitioner also.

3. The petitioner has contended that the entire dues to the Punjab and Sind Bank were completely liquidated in the aftermath of a compromise clinched between the Company of the petitioner and the Punjab and Sind Bank and thereupon the recovery proceedings initiated by the Punjab and Sind Bank before the Debts Recovery Tribunal, Chennai was withdrawn. It is his further contention that the petitioner who is now serving as the General Manager of MEPZ, Tambaram requires the passport seized by the respondent police for the purpose of touring foreign countries to attend quarterly business review meetings. Further, he has to hold several business meetings with the prospective clients for generation of his business. Though the earlier petitions filed by the petitioner stood dismissed, he prays that his passport may be returned for the aforesaid reasons taking into account the development in this case.

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4. The respondent would counter the claim of the petitioner seeking return of his passport on the ground that the petitioner is facing a serious charge of criminal conspiracy and also forgery of property documents offered as collateral security. The petitioner cited business reasons for return of his passport before the trial Court. But the trial Court as well as this Court has taken a view that the petitioner is not entitled to return of passport at this crucial stage of the case. It is vehemently contended by the respondent in the counter filed by him that there is every possibility for the petitioner/accused to flee from the country.

5. The learned senior counsel appearing for the petitioner would submit that the respondent has no authority to retain the passport seized during the course of investigation, after the investigation was completed and chargesheet was laid before the competent Court. It is his further submission that inasmuch as the entire dues to the bank was already liquidated by the petitioner there is no point in retaining the passport by the respondent police. The petitioner who has a very brilliant academic record has entered into an attractive business venture which requires frequent travel to foreign countries. Therefore, the learned senior counsel for the petitioner would submit that the passport may be ordered to be returned to the petitioner. The learned Special Public Prosecutor for the respondent would contend that the petitioner faces grave charges before the trial Court. On one pretext or the other the charges could not be framed by the trial Court. It is his apprehension that the petitioner may abscond from justice if the passport is released. He also would refer to the earlier decision of this Court not to release the passport to the petitioner.

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6. There is no dispute to the fact that the petitioner has discharged the entire liability payable by M/s Pan Clothing and Consolidated Co.Ltd., The recovery proceedings initiated by the Punjab and Sind Bank as against the petitioner and others before the Debts Recovery Tribunal were also withdrawn on account of the effective settlement and the consequent repayment made by the said Company to the Bank. Of course, the petitioner is also facing a charge of conspiracy and also forgery of certain documents furnished as collateral security. The fact remains that the case has originated way back in the year 2002. In spite of the fact that the case is ripe for framing charges even from the year 2005, it is found that charges have not been so far framed by the trial Court. It is not the contention of the respondent that on account of the dilatory tactics adopted by the petitioner, the charges cannot be framed by the trial Court. The petitioner cannot be found fault with for the absence of the other accused which contributed for the delay in framing the charges.

7. There is no dispute to the fact that the passport of the petitioner which was seized by the respondent during the course of investigation has no relevance to the case. The respondent has indirectly stalled the prospects of the petitioner going abroad by retaining his passport even after the investigation was completed. It is made clear that a right of a person to travel abroad is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Unless a competent Court interdicts or prevents a person from traveling abroad by impounding the passport, no investigating agency can simply retain the passport restraining the citizen from going abroad. Admittedly, the passport was not impounded as per the orders passed by the competent court. When the passport has no nexus with the crime alleged to have been committed by the petitioner and no order has also been passed by a competent Court to impound the passport, the respondent has no authority to retain the passport of the petitioner, especially, after the investigation was completed.

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8. It is brought to the notice of this Court that the petitioner has a very good academic record. He has taken up an attractive assignment. The present job of the petitioner requires his presence in foreign countries also. The passport of the petitioner has been retained for about five long years by the respondent police. The same cannot be retained any further crippling the business venture of the petitioner. The petitioner cannot be forced to forego his business interest on account of the pendency of this case. Except the bald allegation that there is every possibility of the petitioner to flee from justice, there is no material to show that there was any attempt made by the petitioner to give a slip to the dragnet of the prosecuting agency. The Court finds that it will take some time for the termination of the trial. Therefore, this Court is inclined to accede to the plea of the petitioner with certain conditions.

9. In view of the above, the respondent is directed to return the passport of the petitioner forthwith and the petitioner is directed to appear before the trial Court as and when required by the trial Court for the purpose of trial of this Case. Accordingly the petition stands allowed.

To
Deputy Superintendent of Police
CBI BS and FC
Bangalore

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