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The Bombay High Court said on Wednesday that the passport authority did not have the right to decide whether an accused in a criminal case could travel abroad or not. “That right vests with a magistrate who alone can impose conditions if an application is made seeking permission to travel abroad,” said a bench of Justice Vidyasagar Kanade and Justice Nutan Sardessai.

The court heard a petition filed by Samip Rajani (28), a flight purser with Jet Airways, who challenged the renewal of his passport only for a year as opposed to 10 years. His petition said as a result he cannot get his flight schedule for overseas travel and will lose considerable remuneration.

Rajani was booked for assaulting a traffic policeman and for criminal intimidation and driving dangerously. Rajani, in turn, filed a counter-complaint against the cop for allegedly demanding a bribe and physically assaulting him on refusal. Rajani was released on bail. On his plea, the Mulund magistrate had directed that his passport be renewed. Instead of 10 years, though, it was renewed for a year. Rajani then moved high court. The judges said whenever a criminal complaint is pending against an applicant who wishes to go abroad, the magistrate alone has the jurisdiction to impose the condition regarding his right to travel. Also, if a magistrate is satisfied that an applicant should not be permitted, he can reject the application. However, when an application is made for renewal, the passport authority has to adhere to provisions of the Passport Act.

The judges said the Centre’s notification which allows passports to be renewed for a year was earlier held by the high court as ambiguous. The bench said it is common knowledge that some countries do not grant visa unless a passport is valid for more than six months. It said the Supreme Court has already held that the right to travel for business or service is a part of one’s fundamental rights subject to reasonable restrictions imposed under the Passport Act and Rules. “In the present case, the applicant as a flight purser has to travel abroad and there is no possibility of him absconding since he has to return along with the flight,” the bench said.
The judges directed the regional passport office to renew his passport for 10 years expeditiously and within three weeks. The judges also clarified that Rajani will have to apply to the magistrate in order to obtain permission to travel and the magistrate may impose conditions deemed fit and proper.