Madras High Court: Liberty of Citizen Cannot Be Casually Jeopardized

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In the case of S.Priyakrishnan Vs. The Regional Passport Officer, The petitioner filed a writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India. The petition sought to forbear any proceedings against the petitioner’s passport. On July 31st, 2020, The High Court put the order of the trial court to impound the petitioner’s passport on hold in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brief Facts of the Case

The respondent sent an email to the petitioner, seeking an explanation as to why his passport should not be impounded. The respondent mentioned in the E-mail, a criminal case registered against the petitioner. A non -bailable was also issued against the petitioner. This writ petition was a result of the proceedings of the authority for impounding the petitioner’s passport. 

Respondent’s Argument

The respondent argued that the petitioner had suppressed the pendency of the said criminal case. The respondent argued that he has not acted arbitrarily. Moreover, he has only complied with the direction of the jurisdictional criminal court. 

Petitioner’s Argument

The petitioner’s counsel stated that the petitioner’s visa is to expire on 31.07.2020 and that in normal circumstances visa would be extended by two more years. The petitioner is now stuck in the U.S.A due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the flights are not available. The stay of the petitioner is U.S.A will become illegal if:-

  1. The impounding of the petitioner’s passport is not put on hold.
  2. The visa is not extended for 2 more years.

The counsel contended that if the above 2 mentioned steps are not taken, then the stay of the petitioner in the U.S.A will become illegal. Moreover, there is every possibility of petitioner facing grave consequences on his liberty. The petitioner also gave an undertaking that he would return to India after the present lockdown restrictions are lifted and flight services between the U.S.A. and India resume. The counsel argued that the petitioner will move to the jurisdictional criminal court after coming back to India. 

Court’s Observation

The Court observed that the liberty of citizen cannot be casually jeopardized. He took note of the extraordinary situations prevailing due to lockdown and delivered the judgment in accordance with that.

Court’s Order

  1. The court ordered a hold on the order of the trial court in pursuance of which the respondent was impounding the passport. 
  2. The court ordered the petitioner to return to India within a period of four weeks after the lifting of lockdown. The petitioner has to return on the resumption of flight service between the U.S.A. and India. 
  3. The lookout circular issued against the petitioner will also be on hold. 
  4. The court ordered the petitioner to appear before the learned Judicial Magistrate No.II, Chidambaram and apply for recall of N.B.W. On such an application, the same shall be recalled on the same day.

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