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Madras High Court Quashes Order Impounding Leena Manimekalai's Passport Over Pendency Of Criminal Defamation Case; Orders Release Within One Week

Sebin James
3 Dec 2021 5:40 AM GMT
Madras High Court Quashes Order Impounding Leena Manimekalais Passport Over Pendency Of Criminal Defamation Case; Orders Release Within One Week
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In a writ petition challenging the impounding of Leena Manimekalai's passport, Madras High Court has allowed the petitioner's plea while setting aside the impounding order of Regional Passport Officer, Chennai on the grounds of pendency of criminal defamation proceedings against her. Justice M. Dhandapani has directed the Regional Passport Office to release the impounded passport within...

In a writ petition challenging the impounding of Leena Manimekalai's passport, Madras High Court has allowed the petitioner's plea while setting aside the impounding order of Regional Passport Officer, Chennai on the grounds of pendency of criminal defamation proceedings against her.

Justice M. Dhandapani has directed the Regional Passport Office to release the impounded passport within a period of one week from the receipt of the court's order.

On the last occasion, while reserving the orders, he had orally iterated that he is inclined to issue a direction to release the passport of the petitioner.

"This is a complete misuse of the criminal justice delivery system. Taking such heinous actions against the petitioner, it's not right.", said Justice M. Dhandapani then.

Before that as well, Justice M. Dhandapani had commented that impounding the petitioner's passport on the basis of a criminal defamation case pending against her by the alleged harasser was not legally permissible.

When the case came up before him on the last date, he enquired if there has been a consensus as to the Magistrate where the case can be transferred for expeditious disposal. He also asked the RPO and counsel for Susi Ganeshan as to who empowered RPO to impound the passport for defamation.

"Even though the Saidapet Magistrate closed my petition for impounding passport after taking an affidavit from the petitioner to ensure her cooperation, I approached this Honourable Court for appropriate directions. No infirmity was found and the trial court was allowed to proceed accordingly. Later, when the petitioner was deploying evasive tactics to delay the trial, the trial court allowed to re open the petition and passed a detailed order under Section 104 CrPC to impound the passport", submitted the counsel for Susi Ganeshan to explain the timeline of proceedings.

Regarding Susi Ganeshan's apprehension that the trial will be delayed in the criminal defamation case, Justice M. Dhandapani assured:

"I will fix an outer time limit for completion of trial".

On the other hand, CGSC tried to imply that the passport was impounded upon the report received from the Commissioner and not on the basis of Magistrate Order under Section 104 CrPC.

"We sent show-cause notices twice to the petitioner. We didn't receive any reply and hence, we didn't take any decision. On 3rd September, they appeared in person. However, their explanation to the show cause notice was not satisfactory. Since it was a criminal offence, we impounded the passport by invoking the powers under Section 10(3) (e) of Passport Act, which we are entitled to do."

The petitioner counsel submitted that if steps are taken to impound a passport in every defamation case, then no one will be able to leave the country soon. He also submitted that the actions of RPO was contrary to the apex court judgments in Satwant Singh Sawhney vs. D. Ramarathnam, Anuradha Bhasin vs Union Of India , and Maneka Gandhi's cases, submitted the counsel.

"We are going to Canada for no purpose other than studying. Why is the RPO so interested to impound the passport? In how many defamation cases have they impounded the passports? People who are murderers, people who have cheated banks and embezzled money are leaving the country", he asked.

CGSC Infant Dinesh replied that upon perusal of the records within their purview, they came to the conclusion that the petitioner was acting contrary to the High Court directions to co-operate with the defamation trial and aid in its expeditious disposal.

The explanation rendered as a reply to the show-cause notices was also not satisfactory, argued CGSC.

Replying to the petitioner's alleged non-cooperation with the proceedings in the trial, the counsel submitted as follows:

"If High Court Directions were not followed, Trial Court is aware of the appropriate course of action. From when did Regional Passport Office take up case management?"

Justice M.Dhandapani enquired to the CGSC if he was justifying the impounding order. CGSC Infant Dinesh replied that he only relied on the recommendations made by the honourable high court while considering Leena Manimekalai's case.

Reacting to the submissions made by the counsel for Susi Ganeshan, the court orally noted:

"I can't adjudicate or give a verdict on your criminal defamation case. Criminal OP was in regards to impounding the passport. I will ensure your right to fair trial in defamation. Sir, this is a Section 482 CrPC Petition. I can only pass orders within the framework of S.482 CrPC, and not Section 397. Order Reserved."

While reserving the order, the judge had told the CGSC that his arguments couldn't be accepted, "Mr Dinesh, there is a limit for everything. You acted upon the adverse police report. Don't make hue and cry as if the petitioner has committed a huge crime."

Background

On September 9, citing the pendency of criminal proceedings against her, Leena Manimekalai's passport was impounded under section 10(3)(e) of the Passports Act, 1967.

However, On 20th October, the Order of Saidapet Magistrate allowing the impounding of passport by RPO was set aside by Chennai Sessions Court, which was duly informed to the Madras High Court on 22nd October. In the order, Principal Sessions Judge R. Selvakumar held that impounding of passport cannot be done by the court u/s 104 of CrPC, referring to the apex court judgment in Suresh Nanda v. Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). It further observed that impounding of passport directly affects the personal liberty of the petitioner and passport can be impounded only by the passport authority after due enquiry.

On 27th October, Justice R Mahadevan enquired to the RPO, Chennai if a defamation case, which is in the nature of a 'personal dispute', can be the grounds for impounding passport. He also directed the parties to appear in person on November 1st to examine the possibility of resolving differences between them. As a reply, Advocate Infant Dinesh for RPO argued that Manimekalai's passport was impounded after it received intimation from the police authorities that a criminal case was pending against her; the RPO is not concerned with the gravity of the criminal offence. In doing so, the RPO was merely exercising his powers by invoking the authority's own jurisdiction under Section 10 (3) of the Passports Act and not Section 104 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the advocate submitted further.

On 27th October, Justice R. Mahadevan said that he was prepared to dispose off the pending writ petition once the parties appearing in person are heard, Meanwhile, Susi Ganesan had also disputed the maintainability of Manimekalai's petition before the High Court.

Leena Manimekalai, a renowned filmmaker, poet and artist, approached the Madras High Court by way of a writ, challenging the decision of Regional Passport Officer, Chennai to impound her passport. In 2018, when the #MeToo Movement was in the fore, Leena came forward with sexual harassment allegations against Director Susi Ganesan. A criminal defamation case was pending against the filmmaker since 2019, filed by Susi Ganesan in the Chennai Magistrate Court.

In the petition before High Court, Manimekalai, through her Advocate, had submitted that the impounding order was passed by completely disregarding her reply to the show cause notice issued priorly. She also contended that the passport was renewed back in 2017, and since there wasn't any criminal proceedings against her at the time of renewal, it cannot be said that the renewal was completed by suppressing material facts.

Susi Ganesan was predetermined to harass her through the criminal defamation case, and the application filed before Saidapet Magistrate seeking directions to the concerned officer for impounding passport reveals his intentions, the petitioner stated. The plea was once closed by the Magistrate, which was challenged by Ganesan before High Court, but to no avail. The petitioner argued that it was only after that the Magistrate re-examined the earlier order upon a fresh petition by Susi Ganesan and directed the passport officer to impound, which in itself was an illegality.

Case Title: Leena Manimekalai v. Regional Passport Officer & Connected Matters

Case No: WP/20411/ 2021

Click Here To Read/ Download Order


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