Right to Travel cannot be breached if quantum of individual loan is not a threat to the economic interests of India: Calcutta High Court

The fundamental right to travel abroad cannot be eclipsed on mere account of absence of conclusive evidence against an individual and if the amount of loan credited to the said individual does not hamper the overall economy of the country. The bench constituting Sabyasachi Bhattaharya J. of the Calcutta High Court impugned the LOC issued by the CBI against the petitioner in matter surrounding default in repayment of loan in Mritunjay Singh Vs. Union of India & Ors. [WPO No. 105 of 2020].

The petitioner was a Director of Kaushik Global Logistic Limited (KGLL) between March 19, 2009 and July 11, 2012. The said company defaulted in repayment of a term loan availed from the State Bank of India (SBI), Alipore Branch, Kolkata. A criminal case was initiated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), in which the petitioner was one of the accused The petitioner however denied being a guarantor as per Form C5A dated February 7, 2013, when a fresh letter regarding grant of individual limits within the overall limit was issued by the guarantors for KGLL, which did not include the petitioner’s name as a guarantor. A Look-Out Circular was put forth in the petitioner’s name.

It was argued before the court that the right to travel abroad is a fundamental right and, in the present case, the livelihood of the petitioner, who is a sailor, depends on overseas travel. Moreover, it was also contended that Section 10A of the Passports Act, 1967 is the only statute empowering the Central Government to suspend a passport or restrict overseas travel of a citizen and provides for a prior opportunity of hearing to the affected person. In the present case, no opportunity of hearing was given to the petitioner before issuance of the LOC.

In the procedural sphere it was further revealed that the ground for request to issue LOC was invalid on the date of the request, that is, January 17, 2020, since the writ petitioner had resigned as Director of KGLL as long back as on July 11, 2012 and no other reason for such request and the consequential issuance of LOC were disclosed either by the Bank or the Immigration Authorities.

The court, in the present instance relied upon the judgment rendered in UCO Bank Vs. Dr. Siten Saha Roy & Ors.[WP No. 23412(W) of 2012], wherein it was held, inter alia, that the “economic interests of India” could not be ascertained merely on the quantum of loan and is on a much higher footing, directly and adversely impacting the share market or the economy of the country as a whole, which would be jeopardized in the event the accused is permitted to travel abroad, to such an extent that it destabilizes the entire economy of the country. Therefore the said ground cannot be confined to individual loans on the basis of commercial transactions.

The court ruled that “The petitioner has successfully demonstrated that he was not a Director of the Company at the relevant juncture when the borrower company is alleged to have committed fraud. Thus, there is no basis whatsoever for issuance of the impugned LOC and the consequential subsequent extension thereof against the petitioner.

In view of the reasons set forth above, the above petition was allowed on contest, thereby quashing the Look-Out Circular and the subsequent extension thereof, issued against the writ petitioner.

The respondent were furthered order to take immediate steps for circulation of this Order to the concerned Airport Authorities and/or other agencies which were intimated about the issuance and extension of the LOC so that no further steps were taken against the petitioner on the basis of the said Look-Out Circular as well as the subsequent extension thereof.

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