The High Court of Karnataka has reiterated that “neither the police nor the criminal court invoking powers under Sections 102 or 104 of the Criminal Procedure Code can seize or impound a passport.”
The court, therefore, recently quashed the order of the Debt Recovery Tribunal-1, Bengaluru, which had impounded the passport of Nitin Shambhukumar Kasliwal, a businessman from Mumbai.
The court said the Tribunal has the powers of a civil court and when the civil court itself cannot impound a passport, the DRT too cannot.
The facts of the case date back to 1999 when Kasliwal had executed an agreement in favour of various lenders for loans secured. In 2015, the lender banks initiated a case before the Debt Recovery Tribunal seeking repayment and in default attachment and sale of properties of Kasliwal and his businesses.
The banks filed an application for the surrender of Kasliwal’s passport. On April 16, 2015 the Tribunal passed an order retaining his passport.
Subsequently, Kasliwal filed applications whenever he needed to travel abroad and in return surrendered the passport to the Tribunal.
In December 2016 he sought the release of his passport as he had to renew it before its validity expired, but his application was rejected. He then approached the High Court.
Kasliwal’s petition was heard by Justice M Nagaprasanna, who gave his judgement on December 6, 2023.
The court noted that the Tribunal had the same powers vested in a civil court.
“The issue is, whether the Tribunal can direct withholding of passport of any person in terms of the power ascribed under the provisions quoted hereinabove. The answer would be an unequivocal and emphatic ‘NO’,” the court said in its judgement.
Reasoning that the Tribunal does not have the power to impound passports, the court said, “The Passport Act is a special enactment and is trite that it being a special enactment which would prevail over any power of even the civil court or criminal court to retain or impound a passport.
“The issue in the case at hand is, such an act being done by the Tribunal which undoubtedly has only the power of following the procedure of a civil court in securing ends of justice. The civil court or the criminal court itself does not have the power to impound the passport.”
The court said that though Sections 102 and 104 empower the police to seize and the court to impound any document, it does not include the passport.
“Impounding of any document produced before the court cannot stretch to an extent that those courts can impound the passport also,” it said.
Ordering the Tribunal to release the passport of Kasliwal, the court said, “The very act of the Tribunal in directing surrender of the passport of a citizen or its detention before it, would amount to impounding of the passport. Such power is unavailable to the Tribunal.”