Maneka’s plan to punish NRI husbands who desert their wives hits Maneka wall

Maneka Gandhi pushed for stringent punitive measures against NRI husbands who desert their Indian wives including cancellation of their passports and confiscation of their relatives’ properties in India.

india Updated: Mar 20, 2018 09:38 IST
Jatin Gandhi
Jatin Gandhi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Maneka Gandhi,NRI husbands,Women and child development minister
Maneka Gandhi on the first day of Parliament budget session in New Delhi.(Sonu Mehta/HT File Photo)

Women and child development (WCD) minister Maneka Gandhi’s plan to punish NRI husbands who desert their wives by, among other things, cancelling their passports could hit an interesting hurdle according to a senior law ministry official — her own case, dating back to 1978, in which the SC made it difficult for the state to confiscate or cancel passports.

“The guidelines issued by the SC in her own case make it difficult to confiscate or cancel passports unless the due process of law is followed,” the law ministry official added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The 1978 case involves the confiscation of Maneka Gandhi’s passport by the government on the grounds as “public interest” without citing reasons. The SC observed that section 10 (3) of the Indian Passports Act under which the passport was confiscated violated her fundamental rights under Articles 14 and 21 of the constitution pertaining to right to equality and right to freedom and personal liberty. It became a famous legal precedent as the Maneka Gandhi versus Union of India case.

Last year, Gandhi pushed for stringent punitive measures against NRI husbands who desert their Indian wives including cancellation of their passports and confiscation of their relatives’ properties in India.

The proposal is now being thrashed out by the law and external affairs ministries. Even the other part of the punishment, the confiscation of “property that belongs to an offender’s relative” will be “difficult to justify”, the law ministry official said.

The law currently allows for passports to be seized on court orders in criminal matters.

SC advocate-on-record Sunil Fernandes said abandonment of a woman by her husband could be a civil matter if it is dealt with under the Hindu Marriage Act. “There are other problems with revocation of a passport. It can become grounds for seeking asylum in another country,” he said.

A senior WCD ministry official familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified said the ministry isn’t privy to the conversations the law and external affairs ministries may be having internally, but added that the two will have to work out the details, if necessary, by “amending the concerned laws”. The official added a passport does get revoked in a criminal case or where the accused refuses to join the investigation. “Revocation of passport happens notwithstanding the Maneka Gandhi versus Union of India case,” the officer said.

The WCD ministry also wrote to the MHA seeking an amendment in the Code of Criminal Procedure that will allow notification of a summons put on the website of the ministry of external affairs to be treated as “deemed to have been served,” Gandhi said at a media briefing on February 12.

A second government official said, “A high-level committee went into the details of the issue. Some of the outcomes are the following: With an aim to provide financial and legal assistance by all missions and posts to distressed women married to NRI spouses, the Indian Community Welfare Fund Guidelines were revised in September 2017.”s

“The amount of legal and financial aid to distressed Indian women has also been increased to US$4,000 per case... The missions/posts have also been empo-wered to provide emergency lod-ging and boarding to distressed Indian women,” this person added, asking not to be identified.

(With inputs from Moushumi Das Gupta)

First Published: Mar 20, 2018 07:22 IST