Holding that issuance of a passport without the signature of the competent authority amounts to “deficiency in service”, the national consumer court has ruled that the passport office can be made to compensate for such negligence.
The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission also rejected the Bangalore Regional Passport Office’s contention that the Passport Officer exercises a “sovereign function”, which could not be covered under a consumer dispute.
Terming the argument “totally baseless”, the commission said the passport officer merely exercises a “statutory duty” and passports are issued against payment of fees.
“Issuance or non-issuance of a passport may be a statutory duty and may not be a consumer dispute, but issuance of an invalid passport which is not signed by the passport officer, would be deficiency in service on part of the concerned officer as defined under Section 2(1)(g) of the Consumer Protection Act,” the Commission said.
The Commission, headed by Justice M.B. Shah, upheld a decision of the Maharashtra State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission that refused to reverse a district consumer forum's order asking the Regional Passport Officer, Bangalore to pay a compensation of Rs 12,000 along with the cost of litigation to a complainant.
Anuradha Thadipathri Gopinath had approached a Mumbai district consumer forum after airport authorities at Mumbai refused to let her board a Dubai-bound flight on the ground that her passport did not contain the mandatory signature of the passport officer who issued it. Strangely, UAE authorities had issued visa on the said invalid passport. As the lacuna was detected at the last minute, she lost the opportunity to go abroad on a junket. Aggrieved, Gopinath approached the district consumer forum that awarded compensation to her.
The passport office challenged the order before the state consumer disputes redressal commission that dismissed the appeal. In its appeal, the passport office had claimed it could not be hauled up for “deficiency in service” as the Passport Officer was exercising a “sovereign function”. But the national commission did not agree.
“A passport without the signature of the competent authority is on the face of it invalid, which would have placed the complainant in a precarious position...,” the national commission said.