Madhya Pradesh High Court: Sujoy Paul, J., held that the pendency of matrimonial cases alone cannot be a ground to decline the renewal of the passport.
In the present matter, the petitioner was a travel blogger and consultant who approached the Court a second time against the action of Regional Passport Authority, Bhopal in not issuing a regular passport for a period of ten years and on the contrary impounding his passport in utter violation of principles of natural justice.
What was the case of travel blogger?
Petitioner submitted that being a travel blogger by profession he was required to travel around the globe. Initially, he was issued the passport on 5-9-1997, got it renewed for a period of ten years on 2-6-2014 and a new passport valid till 1-6-2021 was issued.
The petitioner had matrimonial discord with his wife and due to which his wife took away the old passport of the petitioner with her. Later due to several disputes, a petition for divorce under Section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act was filed and the same is still sub judice.
Petitioner’s wife had filed a crime against the petitioner and his family members alleging demand of dowry, for which the petitioner got bail with no bail conditions imposed upon him regarding his travel abroad.
Later in the year 2017, the petitioner made an application for re-issuance of his earlier passport that was taken away by the wife and also filed a petition under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 for which Allahabad High Court protected the petitioner and referred the matter to mediation.
Analysis, Law and Decision
High Court referred to the decision of Navin Kumar Sonkar v. Union of India, ILR 2018 MP 677, wherein it was opined that mere pendency of criminal case cannot be a ground to initiate action by the passport officer. The pendency alone can also not be a ground for impounding the passport.
There is a need of application of mind by passport officer regarding the nature of the criminal case.
In Manish Kumar Mittal v. Chief Passport Officer, 2013 SCC OnLine Del 3007, the same principle was followed and it is expected that passport officer will apply mind while taking decision regarding impounding/revocation of passport.
Further, the Bombay High Court’s decision in Roshan Lawrence Menezes v. Union of India, WP (Lodging) No. 699 of 2020, makes it clear that various Division Benches of Bombay High Court have taken a consistent view that Gazette Notification dated 25.09.1993 is not an impediment for renewing the passport for a period of 10 years.
The Court stated that the petitioner was not afforded any pre or post decisional hearing before impounding his passport. Hence the impugned order cannot sustain judicial scrutiny.
The pendency of matrimonial cases alone cannot be a ground to decline renewal of passport. The gazette notification aforesaid cannot be a ground for not renewing the passport for a period of ten years or for impounding it or restricting it for a period of one year only.
Therefore, the action of respondents certainly affected the rights of livelihood of a travel blogger who keeps body and soul together by travelling abroad and earning his livelihood.
Concluding the matter, Court set aside the impugned action of respondents impounding/cancelling the passport and hence respondents were directed to issue a regular passport for a period of 10 years to the petitioner. [Hardik Shah v. Union of India, 2021 SCC OnLine MP 2326, decided on 7-12-2021]
Know the Law:
The passport cannot be impounded merely because a case involving offence under Section 498-A etc. is pending or a red corner notice was issued. Impounding can take place if Investigating Officer has shown his satisfaction that accused may abscond which may disturb the routine legal proceedings. In absence thereof, as a routine, passport cannot be impounded.
Advocates before the Court:
Shri Prateek Maheshwari, learned counsel for the petitioner.
Shri Himanshu Joshi, learned Assistant Solicitor General for the respondent / Union of India