Look-Out Circulars, though not defined under the Indian Legal
System, generally refer to a document issued to monitor and prevent
the movement of persons wanted by the law enforcement agencies. A
Look-Out Circular ("LOC") is a coercive measure aimed at
making a person surrender to the investigating agency or court of
law. The objective of issuance of LOCs is to check the arrival/
departure of foreigners and Indians whose arrival/ departure has
been banned by the concerned authorities. The Ministry of Home
Affairs issued the first guidelines for issuing LOCs in 1979. Even
though the concept of LOCs were introduced in the year 1979, the
practice of issuance of the LOCs has flourished in the recent
In 1979, the Ministry of Home Affairs ("MHA") issued guidelines for issuing LOCs, vide letter dated September 5, 1979 (25022/13/78-F.I). Thereafter, it was superseded by an office memorandum dated December 27, 2000 (25022/20/98/F.IV).
That the Hon'ble Delhi High Court while deciding a writ petition relating to the challenge to an LOC and Red Corner Notice issued by Delhi Police and Interpol in the case titled as Sumer Singh Salkan Vs. Asstt. Director & Ors., Crl. Ref.1/2006 and W.P. (Crl.) No. 1315/2008, (2010) ILR 6Delhi706, answered four questions raised by a lower Court on the LOC.
a) What are the categories of cases in which the investigating agency can seek recourse of Look-out-Circular and under what circumstances?
Ans- Recourse to LOC can be taken by investigating agency in cognizable offences under IPC or other penal laws, where the accused was deliberately evading arrest or not appearing in the trial court despite NBWs and other coercive measures and there was likelihood of the accused leaving the country to evade trial/arrest
b) What procedure is required to be followed by the investigating agency before opening a Look-out-Circular?
Ans- The Investigating Officer shall make a written request for LOC to the officer as notified by the circular of Ministry of Home Affairs, giving details & reasons for seeking LOC. The competent officer alone shall give directions for opening LOC by passing an order in this respect.
c) What is the remedy available to the person against whom such Look-out-Circular has been opened?
Ans- The person against whom LOC is issued must join investigation by appearing before I.O. or should surrender before the court concerned or should satisfy the court that LOC was wrongly issued against him. He may also approach the officer who ordered issuance of LOC & explain that LOC was wrongly issued against him. LOC can be withdrawn by the authority that issued and can also be rescinded by the trial court where case is pending or having jurisdiction over concerned police station on an application by the person concerned.
d) What is the role of the concerned Court when such a case is brought before it and under what circumstances the subordinate courts can intervene?
Ans- LOC is a coercive measure to make a person surrender to the investigating agency or Court of law. The subordinate courts' jurisdiction in affirming or cancelling LOC is with the jurisdiction of cancellation of NBW (Non-bailable warrants) or affirming NBWs.
Taking note of the aforesaid judgment and also in light of the order of Delhi High Court in Vikram Sharma & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors., 171(2010) DLT671, wherein the Hon'ble Court observed that a request for issuance of an Look Out Circular had to come from either the Central or the State Government and that too only in the prescribed form and not from Statutory bodies like NCW, MHA issued an office memorandum dated October 27, 2010 (25016/31/2010-Imm) which has superseded the earlier office memorandum. The said office memorandum laid down the following guidelines for issuance of the LOC:
Authority for opening LOC
- The request for opening an LOC would be made by the originating agency to Deputy Director, Bureau of Immigration (BoT), East Block VIII, RK Puram, New Deihi - 66 (Telefax: 011-2619244) in the prescribed Proforma.
Request for opening of LOC
- The request for opening of LOC must invariably be issued with
the approval of an officer not below the rank of
- Deputy Secretary to the Government of India; or
- Joint Secretary in the State Government; or
- District Magistrate of the District concerned; or
- Superintendent of Police (SP) of the District concerned; or
- SP in CBI or an officer of equivalent level working in CBI; or
- Zonal Director in Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) or an officer of equivalent level (including Assistant Director (Ops.) in Headquarters of NCB); or
- Deputy Commissioner or an officer of equivalent level in the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence or Central Board of Direct Taxes or Central Board of Excise and Customs; or
- Assistant Director of IB/Bol; or
- Deputy secretary of R&AW; or
- An officer not below the level of Superintendent of Police in National Investigation Agency, or
- Assistant Director of Enforcement Directorate; or
- Protector of Emigrants in the office of the Protectorate of Emigrants or an officer not below the rank of Deputy Secretary of the Government of India; or
- Designated officer of Interpol
Details of the Officer
- The name and designation of the officer signing the Proforma for requesting issuance of an LOC must invariably be mentioned without which the request for issuance of LOC would not be entertained.
- The contact details of the originator must be provided in column VI of the enclosed Proforma. The contact telephone/mobile number of the respective control room should also be mentioned to ensure proper communication for effective follow up action.
Details of the person against whom LOC has to be opened
- Care must be taken by the originating agency to ensure that complete identifying particulars of the person, in respect of whom the LOC is to be opened, are indicated in the prescribed Proforma. It should be noted that an LOC cannot be opened unless a minimum of three identifying parameters, apart from sex and nationality, are available. However, LOC can also be issued if name and passport particulars of the person concerned are available. It is the responsibility of the originator to constantly review the LOC requests and proactively provide additional parameters to minimize harassment to genuine passengers.
Legal Liability for opening LOC
- The legal liability of the action taken by the immigration authorities in pursuance of the LOC rests with the originating agency.
Recourse to LOC
- Recourse to LOC is to be taken in cognizable offences under IPC or other penal laws. The details in column IV in the Proforma regarding reason for opening LOC must invariably be provided without which the subject of an LOC will not be arrested/detained.
- In cases where there is no cognizable offence under IPC or other penal laws, the LOC subject cannot be detained/arrested or prevented from leaving the country. The originating agency can only request that they be informed about the arrival / departure of the subject in such cases.
Validity of LOC
- The LOC will be valid for a period of one year from the date of
issue and name of the subject shall be automatically removed from
the LOC thereafter unless the concerned agency requests for its
renewal within a period of one year. With effect from 1.1.2011, all
LOCs with more than one year validity shall be deemed to have
lapsed unless the agencies concerned specifically request for
continuation of the names in the LOC. However, this provision for
automatic deletion after one year shall not be applicable in
- ban-entry LOCs issued for watching arrival of wanted persons which have a specific duration);
- loss of passport LOCs ( which ordinarily continue till the validity of the document);
- LOCs regarding impounding of passports;
- LOCs issued at behest of Courts and Interpol
Exception for opening LOC
- In exceptional cases, LOCs can be issued without complete parameters and /or case details against CI suspects, terrorists, anti-national elements, etc. In larger national interest.
Process for opening of LOC by Statutory Bodies
- The following procedure will be adopted in case statutory bodies like the NCW, the NHRC and the National Commission for Protection of Children's Rights request for preventing any Indian/ foreigner from leaving India. Such requests along with full necessary facts are first to be brought to the notice of law enforcement agencies like the police. The S.P. concerned will then make the request for issuance of an LOC upon an assessment of the situation, and strictly in terms of the procedure outlined for the purpose. The immigration/emigration authorities will strictly go by the communication received from the officers authorized to open LoCs as detailed in the para 8 (b) above.
That the guidelines issued by the MHA for the issuance of LOC through Office Memorandum 2010 has been amended on 5th December 2017 by making changes in the clause (j) of the Office Memorandum. Subsequent to the amendment, the empowered officers to send request for opening of the LOC can now send a request for opening of LOC if it appears to such authority based on inputs received that the departure of such person is detrimental to the sovereignty or security or integrity of Indian or that the same is detrimental to the bilateral relations with any country or to the strategic and/or economic interests of India or if such person is allowed to leave, he may potentially indulge in an act of terrorism or offences against the State and/or that such departure ought not be permitted in the larger public interest at any given point in time.
In 2018, the Government of India has again amended the LOC Guidelines and empowered the officers not below the rank of Chairman/ Managing Directors/ Chief Executive of all Public Sector Banks to seek issuance of the LOC against willful defaulters from fleeing India.
REMEDIES AVAILABLE AGAINST LOOK-OUT CIRCULARS
Generally, there can be two situations in which an LOC is issued:
- During the pendency of the criminal proceedings before the Courts: or
- The case is still at the stage of investigation and no complaint or charge sheet has been filed before the Court.
The aggrieved person can exercise following options against the LOC:
- Approach the officer on whose behest LOC has been issued & give a representation for withdrawal of the LOC;
- Approach the Court where the trial is pending and file an application for rescinding/ cancelling the LOC (This option can only be exercised if a case is pending before the Court); and
- Approach the High Court under the Writ jurisdiction as the issuance of LOC is an executive action founded in Circulars/ Office memorandum and the same is open to judicial review.
COURTS ON LOOK-OUT CIRCULARS
With the surge in the issuance of the LOCs, the arbitrary exercise of the powers by the empowered officers have also increased substantially. However, the Courts in India have been vigil in safeguarding the right to travel abroad which has been recognized as a part of the fundamental rights and keeping a check over the arbitrary issuance of the LOCs. The Courts in India have again and again reiterated that the power to issue LOC should only be used in exceptional circumstances and not as a matter of routine.
In the case of Priya Parameshwaran Pillai vs Union Of India And Ors., 2015 SCC OnLine Del 7987, the Delhi High Court after observing that a criminal case has been lodged in Mumbai, in which Petitioner has been enlarged on bail and no condition has been put in the bail order with regard to restraint on travel and also no recourse to any provisions of the Passports Act has been taken vis-a-vis the Petitioner, and no impediment has been put in place by any court or statutory authority on petitioner's right to travel abroad and consequently, set aside the LOC.
In the case of E.V. Perumal Samy Reddy v. State, 2013 SCC OnLine Mad 4092, the Madras High Court while setting aside an LOC, held as under:
It is basic that merely because a person is involved in a criminal case, he is not denude of his Fundamental Rights. It is the fundamental of a person to move anywhere he likes including foreign countries. One's such personal freedom and liberty cannot be abridged...........
But, the fundamental right to move anywhere including foreign countries could be regulated. Where persons involved in criminal cases are wanted for investigation, for court cases, persons, who are anti-social elements their movements can be regulated. Need may arose to apprehend persons, who have ability to fly, flee away the country. So, L.O.C. orders are issued. It is an harmonius way out between a person's fundamental right and interest of the society/state. But, in any case, it must be fair and reasonable. It should not be indiscriminate without any reason or basis.
In the case of Soumen Sarkar v. State of Tripura, represented by the Secretary, Home Department & Ors., 2021 SCC OnLine Tri 143, the High Court of Tripura on perusal of MHA's Office memorandum dated 31.08.2010, stated that the reasons for opening LOC must be given categorically. Further, it has been held that the LOCs cannot be issued as a matter of course but only when reasons exist where the accused deliberately evades arrest or does not appear in the trial court.
In the case of Karti P.Chidambaram vs Bureau Of Immigration, 2018(3)RCR(Criminal)874, the Hon'ble Madras High Court has held that any decision, be it executive or quasi-judicial, is amenable to the power of judicial review of the writ Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India and in exercise of power of judicial review under Article 226 of the Constitution, the writ Court can interfere with an LOC. In the present case, the Hon'ble Court set aside the LOC issued against the petitioner after holding that the LOC was issued in hot haste and even the conditions precedent for issuance of such LOC did not exist.
In the case of Rahul Surana vs. The Serious Fraud Investigation Office & Ors., W.P. No. 2477 of 2020, MANU/TN/1605/2022, the Hon'ble Madras High Court after considering that even after the elapse of three years no concrete evidences have been found to implicate the Petitioner; there have been no instances when the Petitioner has evaded summons/notices calling for his attendance/appearance; and also no material is placed in support of the bald assertion that the Petitioner is a flight risk and there is no tangible material available to deny the Petitioner of his Fundamental Right, set-asides the LOC.
The Delhi High Court in the case of Vikas Chaudhary V. Union of India,  442 ITR 119 (Delhi), quashed the LOC stating that a mere suspicion of opening bank accounts in foreign, wherein the suspicion is based on some unsigned agreement and WhatsApp chats cannot be the ground to restrain someone's fundamental right to travel abroad and ordered that the power to issue LOC should be only used in exceptional circumstances and not as a matter of routine.
In the case of Brij Bhushan Kathuria vs. Union of India & Ors., W.P.(C) 3374/202, MANU/DE/0737/202,1 the Delhi High Court while setting aside the LOC issued against the Petitioner held that the phrases such as 'economic interest' or 'larger public interest' cannot be expanded in a manner so as to include an Independent Director who was in the past associated with the company being investigated, without any specific role being attributed to him.
In the case of Rana Ayyub vs. Union of India & Anr., W.P.(CRL) 714/2022, the Delhi High Court set aside the LOC issued against the Petitioner as being devoid of merits as well as for infringing the human right of the Petitioner to travel abroad and to exercise her freedom of speech and expression. The Hon'ble Court further held that a balance has to be struck qua the right of the investigation agency to investigate the matter as well as the fundamental right of the petitioner of movement and free speech. The Hon'ble Court further observed as under:
An LOC is a coercive measure to make a person surrender and consequentially interferes with petitioner's right of personal liberty and free movement. It is to be issued in cases where the accused is deliberately evading summons/arrest or where such person fails to appear in Court despite a Non-Bailable Warrant. In the instant case, there is no contradiction by the respondent to the submission of the petitioner that she has appeared on each and every date before the Investigating Agency when summoned, and hence, there is no cogent reason for presuming that the Petitioner would not appear before the Investigation Agency and hence, no case is made out for issuing the impugned LOC.
That recently, Mr. Aakar Patel, a journalist and Indian member of M/s. Amensty International was stopped from boarding flight to USA in April 2022 due to the existence of an LOC issued in relation to the case filed under the provisions of Foreign Currency Regulation Act, 2010 for which charge sheet has been filed before the Rouse Avenue Court, Delhi. Mr. Aakar Patel filed an application before the concerned ACMM, Rouse Avenue Court, for challenging the LOC. The Ld. ACMM after considering that the accused has never been arrested in the present matter, joined the investigation as and when the notice was issued, and the apprehension that the accused may evade the trial or flee from justice is without any basis, allowed the application and set aside the LOC. Further, the Ld. ACMM observed that before the issuance of the LOC, the consequences on the rights of the affected person must be seen. Further, the Ld. ACMM stated that the petitioner has suffered not only monetary loss but also mental harassment for which the Petitioner can approach the relevant court to claim compensation. Interestingly, the Ld. ACMM directed the head of the concerned CBI officer to tender a written apology. However, in the revision filed against the order of the Ld. ACMM by the CBI, the Special CBI Court set aside such direction for apology.
A division bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in the case of Noor Paul vs. Union of India & Ors., CWP-5492-2022 (O&M), MANU/PH/0561/2022, while setting aside the LOC issued against the petitioner, issued at the instance of the Bank of India, on the basis of which she was prevented from travelling to Dubai, also directed the Bank of India to pay an amount of INR 1 Lakh as compensation.
In the said case, the Hon'ble Court very rightly directed the Union of India & MHA to serve the copy of the LOC and the reasons for issuing it to the person against whom it is issued as soon as possible after it is issued, and also provide a post decisional opportunity to him. The Hon'ble Court further clarified that the aforesaid requirements (issuance of copy of LOC, reasons and post decisional hearing) shall be read as part and parcel of the Official Memorandums issued for issuance of the LOCs.
From the perusal of the aforesaid judgments/ decisions, it is apparent that the judiciary from time to time has intervened to keep a check on the arbitrary issuance of the LOCs. Undoubtedly, the jurisprudence on the LOCs is being developed in the right direction where unnecessary and arbitrary restrictions on the fundamental rights of the citizen are being dealt sternly by the judiciary and appropriate safeguards are being put in place.
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