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No automatic passport impounding, If criminal case is Pending

HIGH COURT OF JUDICATURE AT ALLAHABAD

Court No. – 21

Case :- WRIT – C No. – 59959 of 2016

Petitioner :- Mohd. Farid

Respondent :- Union Of India And Another

Counsel for Petitioner :- Rohan Gupta,Dharmendra Singh

Counsel for Respondent :- A.S.G.I.,Pramod Kumar Pandey

Hon’ble V.K. Shukla,J.
Hon’ble Mahesh Chandra Tripathi,J.

(Oral : V.K. Shukla, J.) Mohd. Farid s/o Mohd. Jamil r/o 21K Village Madrahna, Post Office Sohaskhas, District Siddharth Nagar at present R/o a1-Qassim University, Postal Code 52571, Post Office Number 7247, Buraidah City, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia through his Power of Attorney holder- Shri Mohd. Jamilk r/o 21K, Village Madrahna, Post Office Sohaskhas, District Siddharth Nagar is before us assailing the validity of order dated 26.10.2016, issued by the Ministry of External Affairs, Regional Passport Office, Passport Bhawan, Lucknow intimating that passport bearing no.L445360 issued on 12.09.2013 is impounded under Section 10(3)(e) of the Indian Passport Act, 1967.

Brief background of the case is that petitioner had applied for a passport by means of application which was registered on 23.05.2013 and on this application he was given an appointment to be present at the Regional Passport Office, Lucknow at 1.00 pm on 29.07.2013. The petitioner was accordingly issued a Passport on 12.09.2013 which is valid up to 11.09.2023, bearing Passport No. L4453460.

Record in question reflects that petitioner had solemnized his marriage with Tasneem Khan d/o Haji Rizwanul Haque Khan on 16.03.2011 and it appears that there has been matrimonial discord inter-se them. Petitioner has proceeded to make a mention that at the point of time when the aforesaid marriage was solemnized, the petitioner was pursuing his Ph.D. in Mathematics. Petitioner has contended that he has been selected on the post of Assistant Professor in Al-Qassim University, Buraidah City, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Thereafter he joined the University and has been working there since 15.08.2015. Petitioner has proceeded to make a mention that on 07.08.2013 an NCR came to be registered as NCR No. 68 of 2013 under Section 323, 504 and 506 of the Indian Penal Code registered by Usman Khan a relative of Mrs. Tasneem Khan against the petitioner alongwith 3 others. Petitioner has further proceeded to make a mention that subsequently, an application dated 13.08.2013 under Section 155(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure came to be filed before the Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Siddharth Nagar and the same came to be registered as Case No. 712/2013?Usman Khan -vs- Zamin and others. However, it may be noted that the cognizance on the charge sheet dated 28.03.2014 was taken in the matter to the Petitioner only on 14.01.2015.

From the record in question this much is reflected that criminal proceeding had also been lodged by Mrs. Tasneem Khan by means of lodging a First Information Report dated 22.10.2013 registered as Case Crime No. 1325/2013 under Section 323, 498A and 313 of the Indian Penal Code read with Section ¾ of Dowry Prohibition Act. However, it may be pertinent to note that the aforesaid first information report lodged against the petitioner and six others was found to be false and accordingly a final report was filed in the matter on 26.05.2014 and it has been submitted that same was on the basis of a compromise between the parties. Petitioner has received an E-mail dated 31.08.2015 wherein certain queries were made from the petitioner. The E-mail notice dated 31.08.2016 is as follows:

“Wed, Aug 31, 2016 at 5:23 PM Letter Ref. No. SCN/307031828/16 SUBJECT: Clarifications required regarding Issuance of Passport facilities to Shri/Smt/Kumari/Master MOHAMMAD FARID Dear Applicant, This is in reference to receipt of an adverse Police Verification report corresponding to your application for Passport, with file number LK1067165581013, dated 29/07/2013.

You are therefore, called upon to provide a suitable explanation. Please note that you are required to furnish a proper explanation regarding the circumstances under which you had suppressed the material information in your passport application and obtained the above said passport.

Also state why action should not be taken to impound the passport number L4453460 dated 12/09/2013 under Section 10 (3)(e), “Criminal case is pending before the Court” of the Passports Act, 1967 and Section 12(1)(b) of the Passport Act, 1967 should not be initiated against you.

Thank you RPO Lucknow”

Pursuant to the notice that has been so issued, petitioner proceeded to submit his reply on 12.09.2016 in the following manner:-

“This is in reference to letter Ref. No. SCN/307031828/16 sent to me from passport office regarding issuance of passport to me against File No. LK1067165581013. I want to clarify few things and want your favour:

I do not know about any case on me yet now.

I have submitted the application of passport through online at 23rd May, 2013 to the passport seva kendra Gorakhpur and Application Reference No. 13-0006367850. The detail of Appointment as Date & Time of Appointment 29/07/2013 & 01:00PM Appointment ID 100004068411313 Reporting Time 12:45 PM. The date of police verification report is 29th July, 2013. The date of issue of passport 12th September, 2013. I have visited to Malaysia for one week in 2014 supported by University. I have given all the detail about my passport issue so I have followed all proper procedure.

I had got married to Mrs. Tasneem Khan D/O Mr. Haji Rizwanul Haque Khan at 16th March, 2011. But our relation was not well and her family had interfere in my marriage life since the day of marriage. At that time I was a student (Pursuing Ph.D. In Mathematics). Every time she and her family threatened to me that they will make entangle to you and your family and will make ruin your education. I have been tolerating the harassment during my Ph.D. After completion of Ph.D., I have selected for Assistant Professor in Qassim University, Saudi Arabia. I had come to Saudi at 15th August, 2015 but my wife behaviour did not change. Now, I have two options either suicide or separate so I have decided to separate her in a very ragged situation. This decision has been taken to see al the events happen since five years. So, to make our life as prosperous, I had given to her Talaq according to Indian law and Islamic Shariah at 24th June, 2016. She and her family is trying to make trouble and threaten to me and my family after Talaq. They are saying that they make kick out to you from job and will make call for alms with bowl to you and your family. So, they are giving the false applications. Thus, she and her family want to elicit my job due to animosity.

Therefore, I humble request to you please understand my problem and help me. Also, I kindly request to you please give me at least one month for find the information about the case from court. Thanking you Note: If any information or documents you will need further I will provide in future.”

Subsequent to the same, the Passport Authority, in his wisdom, proceeded to impound the passport of petitioner in following terms:

“It has been decided to impound the passport bearing Passport No.L4453460, issued on dated 12.09.2013 to Shri/Smt./Kumar MOHAMMAD FARID S/o, D/o, W/o, C/o MOHAMMAD JAMEEL under Section 10(3) (e), “Criminal case is pending before the Court” of the Passports Act, 1967.

You are, therefore, requested to submit the Passport to this passport office with immediate effect, if not already done.”

It is this action of the Ministry of External Affairs, Regional Passport Office, Passport Bhawan, Lucknow that has impelled the petitioner to be before this Court through its Power of Attorney holder.

Shri Rohan Gupta, Advocate appearing with Shri Dharmendra Singh, Advocate submitted before this Court that it is true that under Section 10(3)(e) of the Passport Act, 1967, the Passport Authority has been conferred with the authority to impound/revoke a passport or travel document but mere pendency of criminal case against the holder of a passport would not automatically impound his passport and in such a situation, the Passport Authority is obligated to decide while exercising his discretion as to whether pendency of such criminal case warrants impounding of the passport or not in the facts of the case and in the present case, the said authority has been exercised in mechanical manner without objectively ascertaining this fact that whatever dispute has been there resulting in criminal case, the same was on account of matrimonial discord and there was nothing on record to show and suggest that petitioner in any way has been evading/avoiding criminal proceedings and in view of this, the order in question having civil consequences ought not to have been passed and as such writ petition in question deserves to be allowed.

Shri P.K. Pandey, Advocate representing the respondents, on the other hand, contended that once accepted position is that there is criminal case pending against the petitioner and there is no dearth of authority in the Passport Officer to direct impounding of the passport, then in such a situation, this Court, in exercise of its authority of judicial review, should not at all intervene.

After respective arguments have been advanced, we have proceeded to examine the provisions of the Passport Act, 1967 wherein section 10 confers power on the Passport Authority to pass orders for impounding/revocation of passports and travel documents. The grounds of impounding/revocation has been provided under Clause (a) to (h) of sub-section 3 of Section 10 of the Passport Act, 1967. Sub-section (5) of Section 10 obligates the Passport Authority to give reasons for making such an order. The relevant provisions that have been invoked in the present case is as follows:-

“(3) The passport authority may impound or cause to be impounded or revoke a passport or travel document:-

(e) if proceedings in respect of an offence alleged to have been committed by the holder of the passport or travel document are pending before a criminal court in India (5) Where the passport authority makes an order varying or cancelling the endorsement on, or varying the conditions of, a passport or travel document under sub-section (1) or an order impounding or revoking a passport or travel document under sub-section (3), it shall record in writing a brief statement of the reasons for making such order and furnish to the holder of the passport or travel document on demand a copy of the same unless in any case, the passport authority is of the opinion that it will not be in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, friendly relations of India with any foreign country or in the interests of the general public to furnish such a copy.”

A bare perusal of the provisions quoted above would go to show that the Passport Authority under the Passports Act, 1967 has been conferred with the Authority to impound or caused to be impounded/revoked a passport or travel document if proceedings in respect of an offence have been committed by the holder of the passport or travel document are pending before a criminal Court in India. Sub-section 5 of Section 10 obligates the Passport Authority to record in writing a brief statement of reasons for making such an order.

Apex Court in the case of Menaka Gandhi vs. Union of India 1978 (1) SCC 248 has taken the view that sub-section 5 of Section 10 of the Passports Act, 1967 requires the Passport Authority impounding the passport to record reasons of making such order and the necessity of giving reasons has obviously been introduced in the sub-section so that it may act as a healthy check against abuse or misuse of power. If the reasons given are not relevant and there is no nexus between reasons and the ground on which the passport was impounded, it would be open to the holder of the passport to challenge the order of impounding in a Court of law and if the Court is satisfied that the reasons are extraneous or irrelevant, the Court would struck down the order.

Apex Court in the case of Suresh Nanda vs. CBI 2008 (3) SCC 674 has taken the view that impounding of passport entails civil consequences and in view of this, the Authorities are duty bound to give opportunity of hearing to the person concerned.

There is no doubt on this fact that discretion is vested with the Passport Authority in terms of section 10 of the Passports Act, 1967 but it is not at all mandatory on the passport authority to impound or caused to be impounded or revoke a passport or travel document if proceedings in respect of offence merely alleged to have been committed by the holder of the passport or travel document are pending before the Court in India.

Pendency of criminal case against the holder of passport would not automatically result in impounding of his passport and the mere fact that certain conditions specified in Section 10 (3) of the Act, on the basis of which a passport can be impounded, subsists in a given case cannot by itself result in impounding of passport automatically and once the Passport Authority, in his wisdom, chooses to exercise his discretion in the said direction as to whether on account of pendency of such criminal case, the passport in question should be impounded or not, then, at the said point of time, the Passport Officer should apply his mind looking into the nature of the criminal cases that have been lodged/initiated against the petitioner and further that if a passport is not impounded, then there are possibilities that the incumbent would not at all face the criminal cases. Even if criminal case is pending against a person that by itself does not require passport authority to impound/revoke the passport in every given case. It is only in appropriate cases for adequate and cogent reasons such an order could be passed. While passing order of impounding/revocation of passport, merely by quoting the requirement mentioned in the section is clearly indicative of circumstance that order has been passed without there being any objective consideration of the subject matter.

The criminal cases that are pending, in the present case, are alleged to have come forward are arising out of matrimonial discord and the details that have been pointed out by the petitioner reflects that an NCR No. 68 of 2013 under Section 323, 504 and 506 of the Indian Penal Code registered by Usman Khan a relative of Mrs. Tasneem Khan against the petitioner alongwith 3 others and during the pendency of the said proceedings, an application dated 13.08.2013 under Section 155(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure came to be filed before the Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Siddharth Nagar and the same came to be registered as Case No. 712/2013?Usman Khan -vs- Zamin and others and cognizance of the said case has been taken by the Petitioner only on 14.01.2015. In reference of another case lodged by wife of petitioner Mrs. Tasneem bearing Case Crime No. 1325/2013 under Section 323, 498A and 313 of the Indian Penal Code read with Section ¾ of Dowry Prohibition Act wherein investigation has been carried out and final report has been submitted and petitioner has proceeded to mention that compromise has been entered therein.

Once such is the nature of criminal cases, then merely because the criminal case is pending, can the Passport Authority only on the said ground that criminal case is pending proceed to impound the passport in question.

As already discussed above, the Passport Authority will have to take objective consideration while proceeding to exercise his discretion whether pendency of such criminal case warrants impounding of passport or not keeping in view the conduct of the petitioner. Apart from this in the present case what we find that the Passport Officer has proceeded to pass the order only on the premise that criminal case is pending before this Court and at no point of time reply that has been submitted by the petitioner that he was having matrimonial discord and the said criminal case have direct nexus with the same and in view of this, in the facts of the case, statutory obligation to record reasons under sub-section 5 of Section 10 also remains un-complied with and as such, the order dated 26.10.2016 is hereby quashed and set aside. The Passport Officer is free to pass fresh order as already mentioned above.

With these, Writ Petition is allowed.

Order Date :- 20.12.2016 A. Pandey

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