New Delhi: The Delhi High Court Friday issued notice to the central government on a plea by advocate Prashant Bhushan challenging the government's refusal to reissue him a passport with full validity of 10 years as criminal cases are pending against him.
Justice Rajiv Shakdher sought a response from the ministry of external affairs and the regional passport office, Ghaziabad, while posting the matter for March 16.
Advocate Pranav Sachdeva, appearing for Bhushan, told the court that merely because a criminal case pertaining to being part of an unlawful assembly is pending against him, the government denied him a passport with full validity.
Bhushan, also a founding member of India Against Corruption (IAC), had staged a protest in August 2012 against the coal scam. Though the protest was non-violent, the police had registered a few cases under section 144 of the CrPC for participating in an assembly which was declared unlawful, against the members of the IAC, including Bhushan. The cases are pending in Patiala House court, the plea said.
The advocate argued that the one-year restriction on reissuing the passport is "arbitrary, unreasonable and also discriminatory" and thus in violation of article 14 (equality before law) of the constitution.
Hearing the plea Justice Shakdher asked the Centre: "If someone holds a valid passport but against him some minor traffic violation case is filed, then can you stop subsequent reissue of his passport."
The court also noted that "only if a court impounds the passport or put restrictions on foreign travel, then only passport validity can be restricted".
As per the plea Bhushan had applied for renewal/reissue of the passport to the regional passport office June 26, 2014 and on the same day, as per procedure, his old passport was cancelled. The government had informed him that in order to get his passport renewed, he needs to first obtain a no objection certificate (NOC) from the concerned court where criminal cases are pending against him.
On Sep 2, 2014 he moved an application before the Metropolitan Magistrate (MM) at Patiala House Courts here seeking a NOC for the reissue of his passport, which was granted to him. However, the NOC did not specify the duration of validity of the passport.
On Sep 15 the government reissued the passport of Bhushan for a period of only one year instead of the full validity period of 10 years.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Sanjay Jain appearing for the Centre cited an Aug 25, 1993 notification, saying "Bhushan's request for re-issue of passport for full validity cannot be acceded to unless the court concerned issues a fresh order in this regard".
The ASG argued that as per the notification a person (having a criminal case pending) who applies for issue or reissue of passport to first obtain a NOC from the court where the case is pending and that if the court does not lay down any time period for renewal, then a passport of only one year validity would be issued.
The passport issued to Bhushan from Sep 12, 2014 with a short validity of one year, is due to expire on Sep 11, 2015.