Apparent laxity by immigration authorities left two teenaged India-origin Canadians stranded at the airport here as they were not allowed to board their plane back home on January 25 owing to a technical illegality. Their passports did not have the entry stamp that should have been put by the authorities when they had landed at Amritsar 10 days ago.
Not only did these leave the duo stranded at night, but lack of follow-up on the apparent security lapse has now put the authorities, including the Union home and foreign ministries, under court scanner. The immigration staff did not detain them even though the non-stamping had technically made their stay in India illegal. Even security personnel took no action, considering that their ‘illegal’ entry was a security lapse on the eve of Republic Day. They were simply made to go out of the airport.
And eventually, with no reasons given and underlining that it was more a bureaucratic tangle than any illegality on their part, the kids got the stamp on Tuesday, though they suffered financial loss and a horrible experience.
Sanjeet Singh Kundi (19) and his sister Gursonia Kaur Kundi (16), residents of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, learnt from the immigration officials that they were not permitted to board the Air India flight on January 25, Sunday, at 9.15pm for not having the entry stamp when they had arrived on January 16 by an Air India flight. Both siblings were visiting India after 10 years, to attend a wedding.
Immigration and security personnel told them to simply get out of the airport, and they could contact their mother, who was in Amritsar too, only when a passerby on the road outside lent them his mobile phone.
The mother, Jatinder Kaur Dhanoa, later checked and found out that the passport of her younger son, Rajan Singh Kundi (13), who had come with Sanjeet and Gursonia on the January 16 flight, was also not stamped. “That had not cropped up on Sunday as he is flying back on January 30 with me. I found three more passengers at the airport on Tuesday whose passports were not stamped by the immigration staff,” she said.
She claimed travel agents had told her that “there is a racket of immigration officials at the airport who deliberately don’t stamp passports to extract money from NRIs”.
When contacted, foreign regional registration officer (FRRO) Satyanaryan Sharma told HT that the matter was not in his knowledge, but added that the airline was “equally responsible” for such a faux pas. “This is a serious lapse; I will get the matter probed and pull up the officials responsible,” he said.
Air India’s Amritsar manager Gurcharan Singh explained that once the plane lands at a destination the flight attendants give the entire list and breakup of domestic and foreign passengers to immigration authorities. The officials then have to match their record to see if the passengers have been cleared by them, he added.
For the teenagers, it meant crucial loss. “I am in the second semester of my construction engineering degree, and will lose a month of studies due to this faux pas. Gursonia will not be able to write her three exams of high school. It was a terrible experience. My sister, who is a minor, was stranded on the road at night. We don’t want to come to India again,” said Sanjeet.
The FRRO office on Tuesday evening put the entry stamp on the passports of Sanjeet, Gursonia and their brother Rajan without offering any explanation to the family. “I don’t understand. If they have done it today, why couldn’t they do it on January 25? Air India has now asked for `40,000 more as penalty to take my kids back to Canada,” said Jatinder.
HC notice to ministries, others
The Punjab and Haryana High Court on Tuesday issued a notice to the Union ministry of external affairs (MEA) and the ministry of home affairs (MHA), besides the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), the Airports Authority of India at Delhi and Amritsar, the Punjab government and the commissioner of customs, to appear before the court on February 24 after the Canadian teens’ mother, Jatinder Kaur Dhanoa, filed a petition about the non-stamping of their passports and the harassment thereof. Anupam Bhanot, her lawyer, said the court had taken serious note of the security lapse.