The Bombay High Court on Thursday, directed a Dubai-based Non-Resident Indian, who owns three passports, to deposit Rs 10 lakh with the passport office.
Firoz Merchant (48), who owns 45 jewellery showrooms in India and Middle East was issued a show cause notice on July 17, 2006 by the Regional Passport Office asking why no action should be taken against him for holding three valid passports. The passport office had then seized his all three passports.
He has a business of manufacturing and selling gold jewellery under the trade name Pure Gold.
Merchant had acquired his first Indian passport from Hyderabad in June 1988. Later he obtained a second passport from Dubai, United Arab Emirates in 1989. He further obtained a third passport from India in 1998.
Merchant acquired a passport from Dubai stating that an NRI is permitted to obtain a passport from the Consul General there. Besides, he acquired a third passport stating that he cannot visit certain countries like Israel if he has visited any place in the UAE.
In order to facilitate his visit to Israel for business purpose, he acquired a third passport (which was second passport from India), he claimed.
Merchant’s counsel Srihari Aney argued that he has no bad intention in acquiring three passports. “He was just misinformed and was not aware of the legal provisions hence he acquired three passports.”
His lawyers Sujay Kantawala and Uday Warunjikar added that although he had acquired the passports, but he had never used the second and the third passport.
He approached the HC seeking that at least his one passport be released o that he can travel for work purpose as free movement was his fundamental right provided under the Constitution of India.
Counsel for Passport Authority, RF Lambey argued that ignorance of law was not an excuse. "If a persons applies for more than one passports he should atleast know the basic law," he argued.
A division bench of Justice HL Gokhale and Justice VM Kanade admitted Merchant’s petition and asked the passport authority to return his passport after his counsels gave an undertaking that the authorities court forfeit the money if they find that the and and the third passports were ever used.