Grounds for Impounding Passport

‘Impounding of a Passport’ means the seizure of the Passport. It can be done by the Passport authorities. It is dealt with under Section 10(3) of the Passport Act. It can be impounded on the following grounds:

  • The owner is in the wrongful possession of the passport or the travel document.
  • The document was obtained through suppression of material information or by the suppression of wrong information. In such a scenario, even if the owner obtains another passport, that too, shall be revoked.
  • The applicant is likely to engage in activities abroad that will pose a threat to sovereignty and integrity of India and/or if the applicant’s presence could affect the friendly relations of the country with India.
  • In the five years preceding the date of his application, the applicant has been convicted by a court in India for an offence where he or she demonstrated lack of morality and was sentenced to at least two years of imprisonment.
  • Criminal proceedings against the applicant are pending before a Court in India.
  • If there is a contravention of any of the conditions of the passport or the travel document.
  • If the holder fails to comply with a notice under Section 10(1) of the Act under which the holder can be instructed to deliver up the passport or travel document,
  • An arrest warrant or a warrant or summons for appearance has been issued by a court under any law in India, or a court order prohibiting the departure of the applicant from India has been made.
  • If the passport authority varies the conditions or endorsements or cancels them altogether under Section 10(1) or impounds or revokes a passport or a travel document under Section 10(3), the statement of reasons for the same must be recorded in writing. It needs to present the same to the holder on demand unless the passport authority is of the opinion that furnishing it will not be in the interests of sovereignty and integrity of the country, security of the country or adversely affect friendly relations with a foreign country.
  • An authority exercising more power than the passport authority can impound or revoke a passport or a travel document on any ground mentioned on the Passport Act. This can be done by an order in writing.
  • Conviction of the holder of a passport or travel document by a Court of any offence under this act may also lead to revocation of the same. If the conviction is set aside, revocation shall become void. This order can be made by an Appellate Court or a High Court when exercising powers of revision.
  • On revocation, the passport holder has to surrender the passport or travel document to the authority to whom it has been revoked or any other authority specified by it on its behalf.

Who has the power to impound Passport?

Section 104 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 authorizes the Court to impound document or thing produced before it. However, the Passport Act is a special Act only for matters related to Passport. When there is a General Act and a Special Act dealing with a specific subject, the specific Act is adhered too. Hence, in matters related to Passport, Passport Act prevails.

In the case of Suresh Nanda v. Central Bureau of Investigation (2008)the Hon’ble Supreme Court gave the clarification that the Police Officials may have the power of Seizure of Passport under Section 102(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973; it does not have the power to impound the PassportThis can only be done by the Passport authorities by following the relevant provisions under the Passport Act, 1967.

The impounding of a passport has civil consequences. Hence, the passport authority must provide the opportunity of being heard. The same was held in the case of State of Orissa v. Binapani Dei (1967).

Difference between Seizure and Impounding

Seizure is made at a particular moment when a document or property of a person is taken into custody by police, court or any other authority. Thus, seizure is done at a particular moment of time. However, if after seizing of a property or document the said property or document is retained for some period of time, then such retention amounts to impounding of the property or document.

Denial of a Passport Solely on the basis of an FIR

In the case of Jaswinder Singh vs Union Of India And Another (2019)the Punjab and Haryana High Court held that the registration of an FIR against the person is not enough for the Passport Authorities to cancel the Passport. The restriction only comes into play when proceedings in respect of an offence are pending before a Criminal Court. Unless cognizance is taken by the Criminal Court, the provision of the Passport Act barring the grant of passport does not apply.

Travel Restriction in the cases of non-payment of debts

In the cases before the Debt Recovery Tribunal and other Courts for the non-payment of debt, the right of the Courts to restrict the rights of a person to travel abroad has been questioned. The Debt Recovery Tribunals can restrain the defaulting borrowers to travel abroad in order to secure the interest of justice under Section 19(25) read with Section 19(12) of the Recovery of Debts Due to Financial Institutions Act, 1993 (Annai Jayabharathi v. Debts Recovery Tribunal (Kerala and Lakhshadweep) Eranakulam, AIR 2005 Ker 137). However, some other High Courts have held that Debt Recovery Tribunals are not empowered to apply any travelling restrictions as it violates the personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21.

However, in 2016 the Honorable Supreme Court rejected the plea of Mr. Ravi Ruia to travel abroad who was involved in the 2G scam. The appeal filed against freezing of the passport of Dr. Vijay Mallya became irrelevant as he had left the country.  However, post this in the case of Chitra Sharma & Ors. V. Union of India & Ors, W.P.(C) 744 of 2017 the Supreme Court imposed restrictions on the Managing Director and other Directors of Jaypee Infratech Ltd as well as Jai Prakash Associates Ltd. from travelling abroad without permission of the Court. Thus, it can be seen that Courts are empowered to restrict the travel of persons abroad in matters related to payments of debt too, provided they are enable to do so by the provisions of Law.