Mumbai Observing that mere registration of an FIR and filing of a charge sheet cannot be grounds for impounding the passport of an accused, the Bombay high court (HC) held that the decision of impounding the passport has to be based on the merit of each case.
The observations were made by the HC in a petition filed by a businessman from Thane, whose passport was impounded after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) lodged a case against him.
The man approached the HC after the appellate passport officer rejected his plea for release of the impounded passport on the grounds that a criminal case was pending against him.
The division bench of justice Revati Mohite Dere and justice Madhav Jamdar, while hearing the petition of Sanjib Das, a businessman who was booked by the CBI in 2017, was informed by advocate Aseem Naphade that the petition was filed after the appellate authority rejected the application of his client for release of his passport without assigning any reason.
Das’ passport had been impounded under section 10(3)(e) of the Passport Act, 1967, which states, “The passport authority may impound or cause to be impounded or revoke a passport or travel document 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;”
Naphade submitted that the deputy passport officer, Mumbai by a March 7, 2019 order, had impounded Das’ passport based on the above-mentioned section of the Passport Act. Aggrieved by the impounding, Das had written to the chief passport officer, Mumbai, appealing against the impounding order. However, by a November 15, 2019 order, the appeal was dismissed.
Naphade informed the bench that no reason was assigned for the dismissal. “Chief passport officer’s opinion that registration of an FIR leads to impounding of the passport is legally not sustainable, and as such shows non-application of mind,” Naphade had argued.
In light of this, he sought to call for the records from the Regional Passport office, Mumbai and on perusal thereof be pleased to quash and set aside the impugned order dated November 15, 2019 passed by the Chief Passport Officer, Mumbai.
The bench said, “The said authority has not considered the appeal on merits, and as such, we deem it appropriate to quash and set aside the impugned order dated November 15, 2019, passed by the Joint Secretary (PSP) and Chief Passport Officer and remit the matter back to the said authority i.e. Joint Secretary (PSP) & Chief Passport Officer, to consider the petitioner’s appeal afresh, on its own merits, in accordance with law.” The court also directed the chief passport officer to decide on the application within four weeks.