India: Passport - Power To Impound And Seize

Freedom of movement is a Constitutional right. A citizen is given the liberty to travel, work and reside at any place where he or she wants. The same can be curtailed only as per the procedure established by law. As there was no law in terms of Article 21 of the Constitution and as there was no law establishing such procedure, the government had no right to refuse a passport to any person who might have applied for the same. In such a scenario it was observed that government's claim of absolute discretion in the matter of issuance of passport was considered to be violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. For these reasons it became urgently important to regulate the issuance of passport and travel documents by law. As parliament was not in session, an ordinance namely the Passports Ordinance was promulgated by the President of India. To replace the ordinance of 1967 the Passports Bill was introduced in the Parliament. The Passports Bill having passed by both the Houses of Parliament received the assent of the President on 24th June, 1967. It came on the statute books as the PASSPORTS ACT, 19672.

The question that arises now is can a passport be impounded by exercising power under section 102 read with section 165 and 104 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973? The Hon'ble Supreme Court of India in Suresh Nanda vs. CBI has answered this question in negative and observed that while the police may have the power to seize a passport under Section 102(1) Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, it does not have the power to impound the same. Impounding of a passport can only be done by the passport authority under Section 10(3) of the Passports Act, 19673 .

The Hon'ble Supreme Court observed that Sub-section (3) (e) of Section 10 of the Passport Act, 1967 provides for impounding of a passport if proceedings in respect of an offence alleged to have been committed by the holder of the passport or travel document are pending before a criminal court in India. Thus, the Passport Authority has the power to impound the passport under the Passport Act, 1967. Section 102 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 gives powers to the police officer to seize any property which may be alleged or suspected to have been stolen or which may be found under circumstances which create suspicion of the commission of any offence. Sub-section (5) of Section 165 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 provides that the copies of record made under Sub-section (1) or subsection (3) shall forthwith be sent to the nearest Magistrate empowered to take cognizance to the offence Whereas Section 104 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 authorizes the court to impound any document or thing produced before it under the Code. Section 165 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 does not speak about the passport which has been searched and seized as in the present case. It does not speak about the documents found in search, but copies of the records prepared under Sub-section (1) and Subsection (3). "Impound" means to keep in custody of the law. There must be some distinct action which will show that documents or things have been impounded. According to the Oxford Dictionary "impound" means to take legal or formal possession.

The Court stated that when we read Section 104 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 and Section 10 of the Passport Act, 1967 together, we will find that under the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, the Court is empowered to impound any document or thing produced before it whereas, the Passports Act, 1967 speaks specifically of impounding of the passport. It is stated that the Passport Act, 1967 being a specific Act and Section 104 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 being a general provision for impounding any document or thing, it is the Passports Act, 1967 which shall prevail over the provision under the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 as regards the passport. Thus, by necessary implication, the power of Court to impound any document or thing produced before it would exclude passport.

It is observed that the Passport Act, 1967 is a special Act relating to the matters of passport, and whereas Section 104 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 authorizes the Court to impound document or thing produced before it. Law is clear on the issue that where there is a special Act dealing with a specific subject, resort should be made to that Act instead of the general Act providing for the matter connected with the specific Act. As the Passports Act is a special Act, the rule that "general provision should yield to the specific provision" is to be applied. Thus the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India in Suresh Nanda vs C.B.I had finally held that, while the police may have the power to seize a passport under Section 102(1) Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, it does not have the power to impound the same. Impounding of a passport can only be done by the passport authority under Section 10(3) of the Passports Act, 1967.

The Court while holding this view relied on the judgment of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India and Anr4 wherein it was observed that now, it has been held by this Court in Satwant Singh's case (supra) that 'personal liberty' within the meaning of Article21 includes within its ambit the right to go abroad and consequently no person can be deprived of this right except according to procedure prescribed by law. Prior to the enactment of the Passports Act, 1967, there was no law regulating the right of a person to go abroad and that was the reason why the order of the Passport Officer refusing to issue passport to the petitioner in Satwant Singh's case (supra) was struck down as invalid. It will be seen at once from the language of Article 21 that the protection it secures is a limited one. It safeguards the right to go abroad against executive interference which is not supported by law; and law here means 'enacted law' or 'State law' (Vide A.K. Gopalan's case). Thus, no person can be deprived of his right to go abroad unless there is a law made by the State prescribing the procedure for so depriving him and the deprivation is effected strictly in accordance with such procedure.

It may be mentioned that there is a difference between seizing of a document and impounding a document. A seizure is made at a particular moment when a person or authority taxes into his possession some property which was earlier not in his possession. Thus, seizure is done at a particular moment of time. However, if after seizing of a property or document the said property or document is retained for some period of time, then such retention amounts to impounding of the property/ or document. In the Law Lexicon by P. Ramanatha Aiyar (2nd Edition), the word "impound" has been defined to mean "to take possession of a document or thing for being held in custody in accordance with law". Thus, the word 'impounding" really means retention of possession of a good or a document which has been seized.

Hence, while the police may have power to seize a passport under Section 102 Cr.P.C. if it is permissible within the authority given under Section 102 of Cr.P.C. it does not have power to retain or impound the same, because that can only be done by the passport authority under Section 10(3) of the Passports Act. Hence, if the police seizes a passport (which it has power to do under Section 102 Cr.P.C.), thereafter the police must send it along with a letter to the passport authority clearly stating that the seized passport deserves to be impounded for one of the reasons mentioned in Section 10(3) of the Act. It is thereafter the passport authority to decide whether to impound the passport or not. Since impounding of a passport has civil consequences, the passport authority must give an opportunity of hearing to the person concerned before impounding his passport. It is well settled that any order which has civil consequences must be passed after giving opportunity of hearing to a party vide State of Orissa v. Binapani Dei5.

CONCLUSION :-

Thus it is concluded that the police may have the power to seize a passport under Section 102(1) Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, but it does not have the power to impound the same. Impounding of a passport can only be done by the passport authority under Section 10(3) of the Passports Act, 1967. The Passport Act, 1967 is a special Act relating to the matters of passport, and whereas Section 104 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 authorizes the Court to impound document or thing produced before it. Law is clear on the issue that where there is a special Act dealing with a specific subject, resort should be made to that Act instead of the general Act providing for the matter connected with the specific Act. As the Passports Act is a special Act, the rule that "general provision should yield to the specific provision" is to be applied. Thus, by necessary implication, the power of Court to impound any document or thing produced before it would exclude passport and passport can be impounded only by the authority provided under the Passports Act, 1967.

Footnotes

1. Introduction, Passports Act, 1967

2. Statement of objects and reasons, Passport Act, 1967

3. Suresh Nanda Vs.C.B.I. (2008)3SCC674

4. Mrs. Maneka Gandhi Vs.Union of India (UOI) and Anr. (1978)1SCC248

5. `State of Orissa v. Binapani Dei. (1967)IILLJ266SC

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