"The authorities are expected not to act on their whims and fancies and even speak contrary to their own record." Coming down heavily on the union government and passport authority for illegally withholding the passport of a businessman without any valid reason the Bombay High Court has imposed a fine of Rs 2,500 on the central government.
Naresh Bhagchandani, exporter of garments from western suburb Bandra, had lost his passport in 2003 and lodged an FIR with the police. After the necessary procedure with the passport authority he was issued a new passport on June 24, 2004 with a validity till June 2013. Bhagchandani, was a frequent flier to Dubai and Europe among other countries for business purposes, states his petition.
However, the Public Relations Officer (Policy) of the Regional Passport Office alleged that he had deliberately lost his earlier passport in order to facilitate another person to misuse it. Bhagchandani was asked to return his passport and it was withheld for 2 years. According to the police his passport was allegedly misused by one Yashwant Natwar Patel and against him the case was pending.
When the passport authority continued to withhold his passport, Bhagchandani filed a petition in the high court last year seeking that the passport authority be directed to return his passport.
Besides, the other reason cited by the passport authority was that he had misinformed the court that the case against him was closed. A division bench of Chief Justice Swatanter Kumar and Justice SC Dharmadhikari observed that the respondents (Union Government and passport authority) had failed to produce documentary evidence that Bhagchandani was the one who had deliberately lost his passport so that Patel could use it.
The government had failed to show that there was any criminal case pending against Bhagchandani. "The only accused in the FIR for misuse of passport is Patel and the petitioner (Bhagchandani) was neither an accused nor referred to in the FIR by the investigating agency," states the HC order.
HC further observed, "It is expected of the respondents (Union of India and Regional Passport Authority) to act judiciously when it passes orders which would directly impinge upon the right of even restricted freedom available to a citizen under our constitutional mandate."