New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Friday sought response from the Centre on a plea by lawyer Prashant Bhushan seeking a direction for renewal of his passport with full validity of 10 years after he was re-issued a passport only for one year due to pending cases against him.
Justice Rajiv Shakdher issued notice to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA)and Regional Passport Officer (RPO) on the plea of Bhushan, who has two FIRs lodged against him for staging protest in Delhi against the coal scam, while posting the matter for further hearing on March 16.
"It is very ironic. If the petitioner's passport would have enough pages, why would he have come to you (MEA and RPO)? "If someone holds a valid passport but against him some minor traffic violation case is filed, then can you stop subsequent re-issue of his passport?" the judge asked.
The court noted "only if a court impounds the passport or puts restrictions on foreign travel, only then passport validity can be restricted". Bhushan was granted a no-objection-certificate (NOC) for re-issue of his passport on September 2, 2014 but the passport was re-issued to him for a period of only one year which will expire on September 11, 2015, according to his plea, which said such action was "arbitrary, unfair and unreasonable".
Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain, appearing for Centre, told the high court that the decision was taken as per the 1993 notification issued by MEA relating to passports and nothing wrong was being done. "We have followed 1993 notification in public interest," he said.
As per the notification, a person against whom there is a criminal case pending in any court in India must approach the concerned court seeking an order permitting him/her to depart from India. It also states that even after NOC from the court concerned is received by an accused, the passport shall be issued or renewed for a short period of one year.
According to the petition, Bhushan being a founding member of India Against Corruption (IAC) had staged protest in Delhi against the coal scam. It said that though the protest was non-violent and within his right to freedom of speech and expression, two FIRs were registered against him by the police which are pending.
Bhushan had applied for re-issue of passport as pages in the one issued to him in 2006 with a validity of 10 years were finished, it said, adding that his old passport was cancelled and he was informed that he needed to obtain an NOC from the concerned court where criminal cases were pending against him.
He then moved the trial court seeking a no-objection- certificate (NOC) for re-issue of his passport, which was granted on September 2, 2014. The passport was re-issued to him for a period of one year which will expire on September 11, 2015, it said.
"The action of the respondents in issuing a passport for only one year is arbitrary, unfair and unreasonable..." the plea said.