The power to revoke or suspend a passport is a serious restriction on the fundamental rights of a citizen and should be exercised only when there is a sufficient cause, the Delhi High Court has said.
Justice Vibhu Bakhru also said that while revoking the passport of an individual, the authorities have to comply with the relevant provisions of the Passport Act and also follow the principles of natural justice, failing which such orders would be liable to be set aside.
The court made the observations while setting aside the Chief Passport Officer’s order extending the suspension of passport of one Sikandar Khan under Section 10 (public interest) of the Passport Act.
“The power to revoke or suspend a passport under Section 10 and Section 10A of the Act is a serious restriction on the fundamental rights of a citizen of India.
“… it is plainly clear that any order revoking or suspending the passport without sufficient cause and without complying with the express conditions as indicated under Sections 10 or 10A of the Act or without following the principles of natural justice, would be liable to be set aside,” the court said.
Khan, employed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, had challenged the Chief Passport Officer’s order.
The passport of Khan, a father of three who has been working as a marketing specialist in Riyadh since 2006, was suspended in September, 2016, when he was visiting India on the basis of information that he was involved in cheating Indian nationals in Saudi Arabia.
Due to suspension of his passport, he could not travel back and join work overseas.
Setting aside the order, by which the man’s passport was decided to be kept suspended till criminal proceedings against him are concluded by the Embassy of India in Riyadh, the court directed the authorities to immediately return his passport.
The court noted that under section 10 of the Act, a passport can be suspended or revoked if the passport authority deems it necessary to do so in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of India, friendly relations with any foreign foreign country, or in the interests of the general public.
“In the present case, there is no whisper of any allegation or any circumstance which would indicate that it is necessary to impound/revoke the petitioner’s passport in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of India or friendly relations of India with any foreign country.
“The only allegation is that a complaint was received that the petitioner was involved in looting/robbery in Saudi Arabia with the help of local police friends in Riyadh and information was received that some criminal cases were being investigated,” the court observed.
It further said in its judgement that there does not seem to be any material to establish that the petitioner was involved in looting and robbery, in Riyadh.
“Prima facie, it is also difficult to accept that the petitioner would want to travel to a country like Saudi Arabia (where the laws regarding robbery are very strict) in case, he was accused of any such activity,” it said, adding that there is no order from any concerned agency or any court restraining the petitioner from travelling overseas.
“Clearly, a bald allegation, would clearly be insufficient to fetter/deprive a valuable fundamental right of a citizen. Insofar as criminal cases are concerned, the petitioner affirms that closure reports have been filed,” it added.