Updated: February 6, 2021 4:34:11 am
In recently issued orders and directions, Bihar and Uttarakhand police have said that they would take into account a person’s social and political views and engagements before giving an all-clear for their passports during the police verification process.
Bihar police have warned that persons indulging in criminal activities during law and order incidents, protest demonstrations and sadak jaam (disruption of road traffic) would find it difficult to get passports — besides government jobs, financial grants by the state, or even bank loans — while Uttarakhand police have said they will maintain a record of people making “anti-national” or “anti-social” posts on social media and make it part of the police verification report for passports.
The orders have come in for criticism for being anti-democratic.
What is police verification for a passport?
After an application is made for a new passport, the police are required to make a verification of the details provided by the applicant. This process primarily includes physical verification of the address of the applicant, the duration of his or her stay at the place as mentioned in the application, and the applicant’s criminal antecedents, if any.
An applicant is in any case required to mention if he or she has any criminal case or court case pending against them. This is further verified by the police and a report is made and sent to the Regional Passport Office.
The report generally falls into any of three categories: Clear, Factual and Not Recommended. The first is a thumbs-up, the second gives a factual account of the applicants status of address and criminal antecedents and leaves it for the RPO to decide whether to issue the passport, and the third clearly recommends that the passport should not be issued as either the address is wrong, or the documents are not proper, or the person’s antecedents are such that his or her passport must not be issued.
Police verification is not done for re-issuance of a passport, unless the circumstances of the applicant have changed or the passport is being re-issued on account of it being lost or stolen.
What kind of criminal antecedents do police record?
Police are supposed to record only registered cases (FIRs) of criminal offence or court cases in their report. Nowhere does the Passport Act, 1967 or the Passport Rules, 1980 mention that the police need to give an account of the applicant’s social and political behaviour which do not fall in the category of a statutory offence. Motor vehicle offences, such jumping a traffic signal or speeding, are not accounted for either.
What if police give a “Not Recommended” report?
Whether the police give a “Not Recommended” report based on actual criminal antecedents of a person, or based on their social media behaviour or participation in an anti-government protest, it is not their remit to decide who can be issued a passport. It is the exclusive privilege of the Union Government through the Ministry of External Affairs as to whether the police recommendation is to be considered at all.
“Police across the country send such reports to the RPO. They are rarely entertained. In several instances where certain anti-social elements, with criminal cases against them, had clashed with the police during law and order situations, the police gave them a ‘Not Recommended’ report on verification. Yet they got the passport after a go-ahead from courts,” a Mumbai police officer said.
Under what circumstances can the government lawfully deny a passport?
According to the Passport Act, a person can be denied a passport for two set of reasons which respectively fall in the remit of the government and the courts.
In the first set, an individual may be denied a passport if he or she is actually not a citizen of India; is likely to engage in activities prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India abroad; his or her departure is likely to be detrimental to India’s security; his or her presence abroad may prejudice India’s friendly relations with any foreign country; or in the opinion of the Central Government the issue of a passport or travel document to the applicant will not be in the public interest.
In the second set, an individual may be denied a passport if he or she has, at any time during the period of five years immediately preceding the date of the application, been convicted by a court in India for any offence involving moral turpitude and sentenced to imprisonment of not less than two years.
An applicant may also be denied passport if proceedings in respect of an offence alleged to have been committed by the applicant are pending before a criminal court in India; or if a warrant or summons for the appearance, or a warrant for the arrest, of the applicant has been issued by a court with the court deeming it necessary to prevent his or her travel abroad.
What is the remedy on denial?
Any decision by the government to deny a passport to anyone based even on an FIR—let alone social media behaviour or participation in a protest—can be challenged in the court.
Various court orders over the years have laid down that no person can be denied a passport merely on the basis of an FIR or a court case unless his or her travel abroad has been expressly barred by a court or is a threat to national security. Even then, issuance of a passport is rarely barred and the applicant is asked to take the court’s permission before travelling abroad.
In fact, those who have criminal cases against them are asked by the government to take permission of the court following which the passport is issued.