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Stella Joseph & Another v/s The Regional Passport Officer, Regional Passport Office, Bengaluru & Others


Company & Directors' Information:- JOSEPH AND CO PVT LTD [Active] CIN = U01211KL1954PTC000507

Company & Directors' Information:- E R JOSEPH & CO PVT LTD [Strike Off] CIN = U28920WB1955PTC022404

    WP(C). No. 21874 of 2017

    Decided On, 13 December 2018

    At, High Court of Kerala

    By, THE HONOURABLE MR. JUSTICE DEVAN RAMACHANDRAN

    For the Petitioner: Vadakara V.V.N. Menon, N.S. Gopakumar, Advocates. For the Respondents: Assistant Solicitor General, C.G. Preetha, CGC.



Judgment Text

1. The galling experience suffered by an elderly couple, on account of one of their passports being illegally cancelled by the Passport Authorities, have pushed them to this Court seeking damages and compensation, invoking remedies under the constitutional jurisdiction.

2. This writ petition certainly presents a rather infrequent array of set of facts.

3. The petitioners say that they had arranged for their travel to the United States of America (USA), via Doha, on-board the 'Qatar Airlines' on 16.07.2016; but that when they reached Doha on-route to Dallas, USA, the 1st petitioner was detained and asked to return to India for the reason that her passport was found no longer valid. The petitioners say that this event caused inestimable agony and pain to them, particularly because they had longed to travel to the USA for the purpose of visiting their only daughter who had given birth to a baby girl and that they were anxiously looking forward to the trip to spend time with their daughter and granddaughter.

4. The petitioners asseverate that the affliction caused to them was solely on account of the insouciant faux pas committed by the concerned Passport Authority, in cancelling the 1st petitioner's passport without any cause and without even affording her an opportunity of being heard; and they, therefore, pray that the said Authority be directed to compensate them for the liquidated and unliquidated damages which they have claimed in this writ petition.

5. I notice that a counter affidavit has been placed on behalf of the Passport Authority, wherein they appear to candidly admit that there had been an inadvertent error with respect to the cancellation of the first petitioner's passport. In order to understand the true nature of the explication made by the passport Authority in this case, without in any manner causing any dilution to the same, I deem it appropriate to extract paragraphs 5 and 6 of their counter affidavit, to enable a full reading of the same, as under:

5. With regard to the averments in paragraphs 4 and 5 of writ petition, it is submitted that one applicant Ms.Rituparna Maji had applied to the office of the 1st respondent in the year 2011 as per file No.BN2071299086011 for reissue of passport in lieu of her previous lost passport. Instead of mentioning her lost passport number as 'G4734894' in her application, she had erroneously entered the 1st petitioner's passport number 'G4784894' in the application form. While processing the said application of Ms.Rituparna Maji, the passport number 'G4784894' was cancelled inadvertently by the office of the 1st respondent and marked as 'lost' in the computer records. The same was also informed to the 1st petitioner as per letter No.26/ POL/RTI/17-18 dated 20.02.2017 in reply to her request under the RTI Act. All the other averments in the said paragraphs are not known to this respondent and the petitioner is put to strict proof of the same.

6. With regard to the averments in paragraphs 6 & 7 and prayer of the petitioners, it is submitted that all the relevant information as available in the records of the office of the 1st respondent has already been provided to the petitioner as per letter dated 20.02.2017 and subsequent letter dated 09.05.2017 under the RTI Act. It is submitted that the office of the 1st respondent has accepted a total of 3,68,260 passport applications in the year 2011 and issued 3,84,044 passports in the year 2011. This works out to an average of 1670 applications being processed per working day. The passport No.'G4784894' of the 1st petitioner was inadvertently cancelled due to the incorrect data entered by the passport applicant Ms.Rituparna in her application. The petitioner's averments of negligence or malafide intentions are false and/ baseless and hence petitioner's claim for damages cannot be entertained by the office of the respondents. This is a rare human error caused due to wrong data entered by another passport applicant and considering the large number of passport applications and the stressful working conditions, it is humbly prayed that the unintentional and inadvertent error may kindly be condoned by this Hon'ble Court.

6. From the afore extracted averments, it becomes incontestable that the 1st respondent concedes rather unequivocally that an unintended mistake had occurred while blocking the passport of the 1st petitioner, when they had acted on the request made by somebody else, namely, a certain Ms.Rituparna Maji, to block her passport, which admittedly bears a different number, for the reason that it had been lost by her.

7. The averments extracted ut supra thus make it inarguable that the concerned passport officials, unfortunately, did not choose to verify the information given by the aforementioned Ms.Rituparna Maji, who had, in error, shown the passport number of the 1st petitioner as being hers, since there is only a digit's difference in the two passport numbers; and consequently, the passport of the 1st petitioner was recorded to have been lost and therefore, cancelled.

8. It is thus needless to ingerminate that there is nothing that can be attributed to the 1st petitioner in this process and that she cannot be found fault, for any reason, for having not been even aware that her passport had been cancelled when embarking upon a journey to the USA to see her daughter and granddaughter.

9. Viewed from this perspective, it is ineluctable that the request of the petitioners for damages and compensation cannot be found to be untenable in any manner and that they are justified in seeking it, particularly, with respect to the liquidated component of the damages, since their assertion that they had expended a large amount of money in arranging their tickets for travel to the USA and having lost it all, being unable to complete it since they were off-boarded in Doha, certainly appears, prima facie, credible.

10. Smt. C.G. Preetha, the learned Central Government Counsel, appearing on behalf of the respondents, commenced her submissions accepting the afore extracted averments in the counter affidavit filed on behalf of the 1st respondent, but added that even while conceding that the cancellation of the 1st petitioner's passport was in error, the Passport Authority cannot be found to be at fault in having allowed the 1st petitioner to travel to Doha on-route to the USA, because the cancellation of her passport was done in the year 2011, while the petitioners travelled only in the year 2016. She says that, therefore, the blame for having permitted the first petitioner to travel even to Doha, when her passport stood cancelled, will have to be cast upon the Immigration Authority at the Trivandrum International Airport and that the burden and responsibility for the loss of the cost of tickets cannot be mulcted on the passport Authority. She fervently pleads that no orders, therefore, be issued in this writ petition, as has been prayed for by the petitioners, because she asserts that the mistake was only an inadvertent one and never intentional and that it is human to err.

11. Even when I hear the learned Central Government Counsel submit as above, there can hardly be any doubt that the request for compensation and damages made by the petitioners in this case can never be construed to be unjustified. That said, of course, I am not sure if this Court, while acting under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, can accede to their claim for unliquidated damages; which I think, will be best left to them to pursue in a Court of competent Civil jurisdiction. However, on the question of liquidated damages, I see no valid reason why they should be relegated to a Civil Court, especially when it is manifestly conceded in the afore extracted averments of the counter affidavit of the 1st respondent that the cancellation of the passport of the 1st petitioner was clearly in error and for no reason that can be ascribed to her.

12. I am axiomatically of the firm view that these issues, as also the contentions of the 1st respondent regarding the role of the Immigration Officials of the Trivandrum International Airport, requires to be considered and properly evaluated by a competent Authority of the Union of India, which in my view, in the given circumstances, will be the Secretary, Government of India, Ministry of External Affairs, who is arrayed herein as respondent No.3. I am sure that if the said respondent looks at this matter dispassionately and examines the claims made before this Court by the petitioners, then a full, if not at least a substantial, resolution of their grievances can be obtained.

Resultantly, I order this writ petition and direct the 3rd respondent or any other Officer as may be authorised by him, but not below the rank of a Joint Secretary, to consider the claims of the petitioners, as have been voiced by them in this writ petition and take a decision thereon, after affording an opportunity of being heard to them or their authorised agent, who will be entitled to produce all documents to show the actual loss suffe

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red by the petitioners, so as to enable the said Authority to obtain a panoptic assessment of all the relevant and germane issues. After such an exercise, the said Authority will issue an appropriate order fixing responsibility on the erring department and thereafter order apposite damages/compensation, as he may deem fit, so as to alleviate the grievance voiced in this writ petition, as expeditiously as is possible but not later than three months from the date of receipt of a copy of this judgment. To facilitate an expeditious action as ordered herein, I permit the petitioners to place before the competent Authority a copy of this writ petition along with a certified copy of this judgment. I make it clear that these directions will not stand in the way of the petitioners in approaching a Court of competent jurisdiction, if they are so advised, for damages/compensation, apart from what has been ordered to be considered in this writ petition. This writ petition is thus ordered.
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