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Union of India and Ors. Vs. Satnam Singh and Ors. - (High Court of Delhi) (12 Jan 2018)

Action of applying for political asylum may result in bad publicity for a country but same is not prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India



In facts of present case, the Petitioner returned to India on an Emergency Certificate issued from the Consulate General of India, Vancouver (Canada). On his return, the Petitioner applied for a passport. The Regional Passport Officer rejected said application and placed Petitioner's name under the Prior Approval Category ('PAC') for a period of five years from the date of his return to India on the ground that, the Petitioner had requested the Government of Canada for political asylum. The request was, however, rejected by the Canadian Government. By an order, the appeal filed by Petitioner under Section 11 of the Act, impugning the order of the Regional Passport Officer, was also dismissed by the Chief Passport Officer. The said order was then challenged by Petitioner, which was allowed by the learned Single Judge. The Union challenged the order passed by the learned Single Judge in Satnam's case whereby the learned Single Judge set aside the order, which denied the passport facility to Satnam for 5 years.

The question that confronts present Court is whether the activities of the passport applicant, while visiting a foreign country on an Indian passport and then applying in that country for asylum, can be construed as "prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India" resulting in justifiable refusal to denial of passport to such individual on that ground under Section 6 (1) (a) of the Passport Act, 1967. The decision by the Passport Office to deny passport was held to be illegal, by the learned Single Judge; the Union is consequently in appeal. The other two appeals involve identical facts.

The learned Single Judge had relied on Kulvir vs. Union of India which stated that, "the action of applying for political asylum may result in bad publicity for a country but that does not mean that same is prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India and that howsoever depreciable the action of applying for political asylum may be, the said act on the part of the applicant for the Passport does not fall within the scope of activities prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India within the meaning of Section 6(1) (a) of the Act and thus cannot be a ground for denying Passport."

It thus becomes crucial to determine the meaning of the phrase 'prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India' used in the Act. Apart from the Act, the phrase finds mention in clauses (2), (3), and (4) of Article 19 of the Constitution of India, where it was added as a ground for restriction on the freedom of expression. This was inserted by the Constitution (Sixteenth Amendment) Act, 1963, in order to combat secessionist agitation and conduct from organizations such as DMK in the South and Plebiscite Front in Kashmir, and activities in pursuance thereof which might not possibly be brought within the purview of the expression 'security of the State'. It was made to guard the freedom of speech and expression being used to assail the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Union.

Rule 5 of Passports Rules, 1980 deals with the procedure for issuance of passport and Rule 5 prescribes the forms of application for applying for passport. The form has been set out in Part 1 of Schedule 3 of the Rules. Clause 19 of the application contains a self- declaration that, the applicant owes allegiance to the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India. Unless a person gives a declaration of such allegiance, a passport cannot be issued to such person. The mention of the phrase 'sovereignty, unity and integrity of India' in the declaration must have the same meaning as in the Act, and therefore it cannot be said to have been breached by the applicant/writ petitioners in having applied for political asylum.

Present Court is of the opinion, therefore, that sovereignty and integrity of the country are robust concepts that can withstand the actions of isolated individuals who may seek political asylum; their mere action in so seeking asylum- without more, by way of action tending to undermine the sovereignty, through actions that can result in disorder or violence- cannot be a ground for refusing passport to them.

The affidavit filed by the Appellants states that, from the information received from the 37 RPOs, it is found that, a total of 85 cases wherein the Applicants came back to India or were deported by a foreign government after rejection of their requests for political asylum, are still pending from the year 2013 to 2015. Generally, political asylum in a foreign country is sought by people who fear persecution in their own country and are, therefore, unwilling to return and such an act might bring disrepute to India, given that instances of people seeking passport after having been refused political asylum by a foreign country have risen in the recent years as in terms of the data provided by the Appellants. However in these cases, this Court concurs with the view in the impugned orders (and Kulvir) that, however, condemnable the act of seeking political asylum in a foreign land, ipso facto, (i.e. by itself, and without any other fact showing that the applicant had involved himself or herself with activities of any individual or groups that plot, or had conspired, or are conspiring violence and other such activities to undermine the establishments in India or a section of its people) it cannot possibly be a ground to deny passport under Section 6 (1) (a) of the Act.

The provisions of the Act should be strictly construed as they have the consequence of depriving a person of his essential rights, and such deprivation should not be done lightly, but within the confines of the legislative provision. Present Court, therefore, holds that the impugned orders as well as Kulvir have correctly appreciated the law and the applicable principles. Appeals are dismissed.

Relevant : Kulvir Singh vs. Union of India MANU/DE/3424/2014


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