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Understanding India’s ‘blacklist’: What it is, who are included in it

Unpacking the issues behind the controversy over the presence of Canadian Jaspal Atwal in India.

Written by Rahul Tripathi | New Delhi | February 26, 2018 1:21:30 am
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The grant of an Indian visa to Canadian national Jaspal Atwal, who was convicted on charges of attempt to murder, triggered a controversy during the visit of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. While the Ministry of External Affairs clarified that Atwal’s name was removed from the blacklist in July last year, Canadian authorities maintained that he is a reformed man, and that the government was engaging with other individuals who had not been involved with separatist or extremist activities in recent years. The blacklist maintained by the Indian government is reviewed from time to time, and name of individuals are added or deleted on the recommendations made by central agencies or state police.

What exactly is the ‘blacklist’?

It is a list containing the names of Indian citizens and foreigners against whom a “look out circular” (LOC) has been issued. This consolidated list is maintained by the Foreigners Division of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). It is sent to all Indian diplomatic missions across the world, as well as to immigration checkposts within the country. At present, there are nearly 30,000 individuals, including foreign nationals, in the blacklist database of the MHA. The list was pruned from 38,000 in 2016.

Why were many NRI Sikhs blacklisted?

The blacklist is not in the public domain. Its existence became known in the early 1990s after Punjab leaders received complaints from Sikhs abroad that they were being denied entry into India. Following Operation Blue Star in 1984, many Sikhs who protested the Army action at the Golden Temple or were alleged to be involved in “anti-national” activities, sought political asylum in foreign countries. Indian intelligence agencies gave a list containing their names to all Indian embassies and high commissions. Consequently, these individuals were denied Indian visas. Names of more than 100 Sikh individuals were removed when the list was reviewed in 2017.

Who are the authorities on whose request an LOC can be issued?

The authorities include the Ministry of External Affairs, the Customs and Income-Tax departments, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), regional passport officers, police authorities in various states and the International Criminal Police Organisation, commonly known as Interpol. Unless specified, an LOC is valid for one year. However, agencies concerned are allowed to make a request to immigration authorities for the extension of an LOC before its expiry.

What are the categories of cases in which agencies can seek an LOC?

Investigating agencies can approach immigration authorities for issuance of an LOC in cases of offences recognised by the Indian Penal Code or other penal provisions, or when the accused/suspect is deliberately evading arrest or not appearing for trial in court in spite of a non-bailable warrant and similar coercive measures. It can also be issued when there is a likelihood of the suspect leaving the country to evade trial or arrest. In cases where the offence is not recognised by the IPC, LOC cannot be issued to prevent the individual from leaving the country. In such cases, the agencies can only ask to be informed about the arrival or departure of these individuals.

What is the process to be followed by an agency before requesting an LOC?

Investigators must submit a written request, providing details regarding the individual’s involvement in a crime, to an officer notified by the Ministry of Home Affairs. The officer should not be below the rank of deputy secretary to the Government of India, joint secretary in a state government, superintendent of police at the district level or in CBI/NIA, zonal director in NCB, deputy commissioner in DRI, assistant director of Intelligence Bureau or bureau of immigration, deputy secretary in R&AW, assistant director of Enforcement Directorate, among others. LOCs can also be issued on the direction of any criminal court in India.

What legal remedies are available to blacklisted individuals?

According to legal experts, their best bet is to cooperate with investigating agencies. They can approach a court or the competent officer, who issued the LOC, for its withdrawal.

What is the role of a subordinate court in a LOC related case?

LOC is a coercive measure used by investigating agencies and courts to compel suspects awaiting trial to surrender. If an LOC is issued on the basis of a non-bailable warrant by a subordinate court, a cancellation of that warrant by the court will make it invalid.

Can an LOC be issued at the request of statutory bodies in cases of child abuse?

In a verdict delivered in July 2010, the Delhi High Court observed that “a request for issuance of LOC cannot emanate from statutory body like NCW”. Following the court’s observation, the Centre framed guidelines according to which, “requests [for LOC] along with full necessary facts are first to be brought to the notice of law enforcement agencies like the police. The SP concerned will then make the request for issuance of an LOC… strictly in terms of procedure…”.

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