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Now your political tweets and social media posts can stop you from getting a passport

Bihar and Uttarakhand police have said in the recently issued orders and directions that they will take into account the social & political views and commitments of an individual before giving an all-clear for their passports during the police verification process.

Bihar police have warned that it will be difficult to get passports for individuals who participate in illegal activities during law-and-order incidents, protests and Sadak jaam (disruption of road traffic)-in addition to government jobs, state financial grants, or even bank loans, Uttarakhand police have said they would keep a record of people on social media making “anti-national” or “anti-social” posts and make it part of the passport verification report of the police.

For being anti-democratic, the directives have come in for criticism.

What is authentication for a passport by the police?

After an application for a new passport is submitted, the police are allowed to check the information provided by the applicant. This procedure mainly requires physical verification of the applicant’s address, the length of the applicant’s stay at the place referred to in the application, and the applicant’s criminal background, if any.

In either case, an applicant is expected to show if he or she has any criminal case or court case pending against them. The police check this further, and a report is made and sent to the Regional Passport Office.

Generally, the report falls into three categories: Clear, Factual and Not Recommended.

The first is a thumbs-up, the second provides a truthful account of the address and criminal record status of the applicants and leaves it to the RPO to determine whether to issue the passport or not, and the third specifically advises that the passport should not be issued because either the address is inaccurate or the records are incorrect or the background information of the person is such that the passport must not be issued.

Police verification shall not be carried out for the re-issuance of a passport unless the applicant’s circumstances have changed or the passport is re-issued because it is lost or stolen.

What kind of criminal background do police reports records?

Only registered cases (FIRs) of criminal offences or court cases should be reported by the police in their report. There is no mention in the Passport Act, 1967 or the Passport Law, 1980, that the police ought to take account of the social and political conduct of the applicant that does not fall into the category of a statutory offence.

Motor vehicle violations are not compensated for either, such as skipping a traffic signal or speeding.

Police officers in Mumbai said that police across the country send such reports to the RPO. Rarely are they taken into serious consideration and entertained.  The police sent them a ‘Not Recommended’ report on verification in some instances where certain anti-social groups, with criminal cases against them, had clashed with the police during law-and-order situations. Yet, after a go-ahead from the courts, they got the passport.

In what conditions will a passport be legally refused by the government?

Under the Passport Act, a person can be refused a passport for two sets of reasons that fall under the jurisdiction of the government and the courts, respectively.

In the first set, if he or she is not actually a citizen of India, a person may be refused a passport; is likely to engage in activities prejudicial to the sovereignty and dignity of India abroad; his or her departure is likely to be detrimental to the safety of India; his or her presence abroad may prejudice the friendly relations of India with any foreign country; or the issuance of a passport or travel document to the applicant would not be in the public interest, or in the view of the Central Government.

In the second set, a person may be refused a passport if he or she has been convicted by a court in India for any offence involving moral turpitude and sentenced to imprisonment of not less than two years at any time within the span of five years immediately preceding the date of the request.

An applicant may also be refused a passport if proceedings are pending before a criminal court in India in respect of an offence alleged to have been committed by the applicant; or if a warrant or summons to appear or a warrant to arrest the applicant has been issued by a court which deems it appropriate to prohibit him from travelling abroad.

What’s the solution for refusal?

Any government decision to refuse someone a passport based on a FIR, let alone social media activity or involvement in a demonstration, may be questioned in court.

Over the years, numerous court orders have provided that no person can be refused a passport merely on the basis of a FIR or a court case unless a court has expressly barred his or her travel abroad or is a threat to national security. Even then, passport issuance is rarely prohibited and the applicant is asked to seek approval from the court before travelling abroad.

In fact, the government is invited by those who have criminal cases against them to seek permission from the court after which the passport is released.

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