India: Satwant Singh Sawhney v. Ramarathnam, [10 April, 1967] 3 SCR 525

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The petitioner carried on the business of import, export and the  manufacture of automobile parts and in connection with his business it was necessary for him to travel abroad. For this  purpose  he was holding two valid passports   when  on August 31, 1966 and on September 24, 1966 the first and the second respondents, being the Assistant Passport Officer  at New  Delhi and the Regional Passport Officer  at  Bombay respectively  wrote  to the petitioner calling upon  him to surrender the two passports as the Central Government had decided to withdraw the passport facilities extended to him.

Court ruling

In any event, there is no absolute right to demand a passport because that is not a right to personal liberty even in the Blackstonian sense. The passport being a political document, is one which the State may choose to give or to withhold. Since that document vouches for the respectability of the holder, it stands to reason that Government need not vouch for a person it does not consider worthy. This is not to say that we are insensible to the importance of travel, so adequately described by writers and judgments. Those observations apply to the bulk of the people to whom passport is generally never refused. What we are concerned with is a slender body of persons whose travel' abroad is considered harmful to the larger interests of our country and who themselves are in any event undesirable emissaries of our nation and who might, if allowed to go abroad, cause many complications. A system of passports is thus essential and requires a wide discretion.

The Universal declaration of human rights-"Everyone has the right to leave any country including his own" is applicable to normal persons. It does not apply to criminals avoiding penalties or political agitators, etc. likely to create international tensions or persons who may disgrace our country abroad.

To conclude :...the better view in our country is that a person is ordinarily entitled to a passport unless, for reasons which can be established to the satisfaction of' the Court, the passport can be validly refused to him. Since an aggrieved party can always ask for a mandamus if he is treated unfairly, it is not open, by straining the Constitution, to create an absolute and fundamental right to a passport where none exists in the Constitution. There is no doubt a fundamental right to, equality in the matter of grant of passports (subject to reasonable classifications) but there is no fundamental right to travel abroad or to the grant of a passport. With all due respect we say that the Court has missed one for the other. The solution of a law of passports will not make things any better. Even if a law were to be made the position would hardly change because the utmost discretion will have to be allowed to decide upon the worth of an applicant. The only thing that can be said is that where the passport authority is proved to be wrong, a mandamus will always right the matter.

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