The Delhi High Court today ordered restoration of the passport of former Indian Premier League (IPL) Commissioner Lalit Kumar Modi, paving the way for his return to the country.
A bench of justices Badar Durrez Ahmed and Vibhu Bakhru set aside the order revoking Modi's passport but made it clear that it was not expressing any opinion with regard to the alleged violations under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) by him which are being examined separately by the authorities under FEMA.
Restoring his passport, the bench said the materials taken into consideration while revoking his passport were "extraneous and irrelevant".
Further, the bench said the order revoking Modi's passport was invalid as it was in violation of Article 19(1)(a) (freedom of speech and expression) and (g) (practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business) of the Constitution.
The bench also said there is a specific procedure and statutory provisions for default or non-compliance of summonses under FEMA and revocation of his passport for such default on the ground that it was in the interest of general public "was not lawful".
"... Extraneous considerations and irrelevant materials were taken into account by the officers under the Passports Act while rendering their decisions dated March 3, 2011 and October 31, 2011.
"This is also apart from the more serious issue of invalidity on account of violation of Article 19(1)(a) and (g). The Single Judge, in the impugned order dated January 16, 2013, in our view, did not examine these aspects of the matter.
"Since there is a specific procedure and there are specific statutory provisions for default in non-compliance with summonses under FEMA itself read with relevant provisions of the Income-tax Act and the Civil Procedure Code, the revocation of the appellant's passport for that so-called default (which is yet to be adjudicated upon), on the ground that it was in the interests of the general public, was not lawful," the court said.
On January 16, 2013, a single-judge bench of the high court had dismissed Modi's plea challenging the orders revoking his passport passed by the Regional and Chief Passport Officers on March 3, 2011 and October 31, 2011, respectively.
The bench, in its 60-page judgement, also said "if we assume that the appellant was not in the United Kingdom but in India, could the action of revocation of his passport be regarded as lawful?
"In fact, would the Enforcement Directorate have requested the Regional Passport Officer for taking action under the Passports Act? We think not.
"And, we must remember that the passport is essentially required for departure from India. The appellant is already in UK," it said.
Modi, who was was facing FEMA cases related to IPL, was asked to be present before the Enforcement Directorate (ED) but he had refused to do so and chose to stay in the United Kingdom. The government, thereafter, had cancelled his passport.
Modi has been living in England after his passport was revoked by the Mumbai Regional Passport Office in March 2011, five months after he was sacked from IPL on charges of financial irregularities.
Early this year, Modi had contested the Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) elections for the post of president. Following a protracted legal battle with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), he was declared elected as the president of RCA in May by a court ruling.