The question for consideration in this article would be whether the passport authorities can impound/revoke the passport of someone on the sole ground that an FIR has been registered against him. Further, whether it can be said that the registration of FIR can be considered as taking cognizance by a court. Whether the passport authorities can refuse or impound an accused's passport merely on the ground that an FIR has been registered against the accused is no longer res integra. The Hon'ble High Court of Punjab and Haryana has pronounced several judgements vide which the court has categorically stated that the passport authorities can't refuse or cancel a passport on the ground of registration of FIR. This is because Section 6(2) and Section 10(3) of the Passport Act, 1967(herein referred as the Act), mandated that such refusal/revocation/cancellation can be only in the event proceedings in respect of an offence are pending before Criminal Court. Trite to state, unless the Criminal Court takes cognizance, the above provisions would not come into play. In, Daler Singh v. Union of India and others (C.W.P. No.12143 of 2015), the Hon'ble High Court held that a Passport couldn't be refused merely on the ground that F.I.R. has been registered. Followed by another judgment of Sahib Jaskaran Singh v. Union of India and others 2016 (2) R.C.R. (Criminal) 798. In the most recent judgment of Jaswinder Singh v. Union of India and another 2020 (1) R.C.R. (Civil) 550, the Hon’ble High Court again reiterated the earlier ratio laid down in Daler Singh(supra) in which the court opined that Petitioner couldn't be refused passport on the sole ground that F.I.R. has been registered.
That even if a criminal case is pending against an accused, that by itself does not entitle the Regional Passport officer to impound the Passport of a citizen. In Manish Kumar Mittal v. Chief Passport Officer (Delhi) 2013(202) DLT 317, the Hon'ble High Court of Delhi laid down this ratio that even if a criminal case is pending against a person that by itself does not require the regional Passport Officer to impound/revoke the Passport in every case. The Hon'ble High Court held that it was wholly in contravention of the statutory requirement of Sub-section (5) of Section 10. It is only in appropriate cases and for adequate and cogent reasons should a citizen's Passport be impounded. The relevant paras of the Judgment are being reproduced as under:-
6. Though the Petitioner did prefer an appeal, that would be of no consequence since, in the absence of the reasons for impounding/revoking his Passport could not have effectively assailed the order passed by the Regional Passport Officer. In any case, even the said order shows no application of mind by the Appellate Authority to the question as to whether it was really necessary to impound / revoke the Passport of the Petitioner. Even if a criminal case is pending against a person that by itself does not require the Regional Passport Officer to impound/revoke the Passport in every case. It is only in appropriate cases and for adequate and cogent reasons that such an order can be passed.
Violation of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
That it would be significant to state that arbitrary impounding of a passport would amount to violation of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and even principles of Natural Justice. The Hon’ble Apex court in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India 1978 (1) SCC 248, in para 45 (at page 322 of SCC), pointed out that refusal or impounding a passport interferes with a basic human right recognised in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Further in Maneka Gandhi v. UOI (supra) the Supreme Court defined natural justice as 'a facet of fair play' and defined it as 'quintessence of the process of justice, inspired and guided by fair play in action'; while in, another situation it can be described as a 'distillate of due process of law'.
That in conclusion, it can be opined that impounding a passport does have civil consequences, hence, the passport authority cannot arbitrarily impound the passport of a citizen without a proper application of its mind. Further, a passport authority is not entitled to impound the passport of someone on the sole ground that an FIR is registered against them because that does not mean the court has taken cognizance of the matter. It is only when the court has taken cognizance when the Passport Authorities can initiate impounding proceedings. It would be appropriate here to mention that even if a criminal case is pending against an accused that itself does not entitle the passport authorities to impound the passport of the individual. It is only in exceptional/appropriate cases that such passports should be impounded. The overall intention to impound a passport is to ensure that an accused does not abscond and stop appearing in court. The primary object to impound can be said to ensure the presence of the accused before the court, where he / she is facing trial.