NRIs who harass, desert their wives may get their passports cancelled
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi have taken up the cause of Indian wives deserted by NRI men.india Updated: Sep 18, 2017 08:33 IST
Non-resident Indians (NRIs) who harass their wives or desert them could face impoundment or cancellation of their passport if the Centre accepts the recommendations of a high-level panel.
Following several complaints lodged by women deserted by their NRI husbands, the ministry of external affairs (MEA) constituted the committee in May to look into various legal and regulatory challenges and suggest measures to address them.
The panel has also recommended that cases of domestic violence be included in the scope of extradition treaties that India inks with other countries.
“The panel believes this will facilitate extradition of NRI spouses to India for trial. At present, when it comes to desertion, domestic violence or dowry harassment cases, it is next to impossible to get the man to return for facing legal proceedings,” said a source.
Officials in the Union women and child development (WCD) ministry, which is coordinating with the MEA on the issue, said the government is likely to accept the recommendations.
“Both external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and WCD minister Maneka Gandhi have taken up the cause of Indian wives deserted by NRI men, and have spoken on several public fora of the government’s intent to address the issue,” said a ministry official.
To help abandoned women get justice, the nine-member panel headed by retired judge Arvind Kumar Goel (who is also the former chairman of Punjab’s state commission for NRIs), has recommended a special provision to impound or cancel the passport of offending NRIs based on the wife’s complaint.
“Once the passport is impounded, the NRI husband — if present in India — won’t be able to leave the country until the case is settled. If abroad, he will have to be deported to India,” said a source privy to the committee’s report, which was submitted to the MEA last month.
Though Section 10 (3) of the Passport Act has a provision for impounding the passport of NRI husbands in case of an FIR or court directive, it is often not invoked due to lack of awareness and the cumbersome process involved.
The panel also recommended increasing the financial assistance provided by Indian missions to such women from $3,000 to $6,000. The money is meant to help them avail of counselling and legal services in foreign lands, where they may not have adequate resources or connections.
The National Commission for Women (NCW), an autonomous body under the ministry, recorded as many as 346 complaints from women married to NRIs in 2014. They were mostly about men preventing their wives from travelling by confiscating their passports; disappearing after marrying women in India; abandoning them in foreign countries; forcibly keeping children abroad with no contact with the mother etc.
However, WCD ministry officials say even this figure does not reflect the actual picture because women who come forward to lodge complaints are few. In 2009, then NCW chairperson Girija Vyas had observed that “out of 10 NRI marriages, two result in the wife being abandoned after the honeymoon”.
In another recommendation, the committee said states should compulsorily register all marriages – especially those involving NRIs – until a central law in this regard is enacted. It also recommended that the marriage registration certificate be issued only after the NRI groom is made to fill a form spelling out all relevant details, such as his passport number, social security number, residential and official addresses, etc. “This will help track the man if he deserts his wife,” said another source. Punjab already has such a mechanism in place.
Additionally, the panel mooted setting up a national mechanism involving the home and external affairs ministries – besides the NCW – to deal with such cases.
Jasbir Singh Gill, former president of the NRI Sabha (Punjab), welcomed the recommendations but wondered how government agencies were planning to implement them.
“Suggestions must be drawn from all stakeholders to form a fool-proof law,” he said, adding that parents should also be held responsible for marrying their daughters off to NRI grooms without conducting proper background checks.
A 2012 report published in HT had reported about then Jalandhar regional passport officer Parneet Singh using relevant provisions in the Passport Act to impound the passports of over 60 NRIs who had abandoned their wives. However, such instances are few and far between, and scores of abandoned women are forced to fend for themselves in the absence of a strong law.