Orange Passport For Non-Matriculates: A Day After Kerala HC Seeks Centre's Response, MEA Revokes Decision

Orange Passport For Non-Matriculates: A Day After Kerala HC Seeks Centre

A day after the Kerala High Court issued notice to the Union government on a petition challenging its decision to introduce orange colour jacket for 'Emigration Check Required' (ECR) passports issued to non-matriculate persons and to delete/detach the last page of passport containing personal details of passport holder, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has rescinded its decision.

In a meeting chaired by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Monday, the decision was reviewed where several representations against the decision were also considered.

"... after comprehensive discussions with various stakeholders, the MEA has decided to continue with the current practice of printing of the last page of the passport and not to issue a separate passport with orange colour jacket to ECR passport holders," a release said.

The Centre had so far maintained that the decision of issuing orange jacket passport and deleting the last page was taken by the MEA on the recommendation of a three-member committee comprising officials of MEA and the Ministry of Women and Child Development with a view to help and assist them on priority basis.

It is to be noted that the MEA decided to go back on its decision a day after a bench of Kerala High Court Acting Chief Justice Antony Dominic and Justice Seshadri Naidu issued the notice on PIL filed by advocate Shamsuddeen Karunagappally and co-petitioner Shajahan, both residents of Kollam district.

The petitioners had said the decision amounted to segregation of persons with low education and low economic status.

"The respondents have decided to introduce orange colour code for Emigration Check Required passports. Emigration Check is required for passport holder who do not have education beyond 10th grade, having less than taxable income, who seek migration for employment.

"The move is targeting migrant workers in Middle Eastern countries. To make their underprivileged status known publicly through separate colour code is a grave invasion of their fundamental right to privacy and dignity. There is no rational objective to be achieved through this segregation. The segregation is demeaning and shockingly violative of the principle of equality," the PIL had said.

It is to be noted that while the Centre had claimed that a different colour passport will help emigrant workers stand out in difficult situations and help easy processing of their documents, the PIL voiced concern about practical hardships the move might create for migrant workers with chances of their harassment and exploitation increasing when their vulnerable status is made apparent through the colour on their passport.

As of now, all ordinary passports are issued with blue cover, regardless of educational qualification and economic status of a person.

The Emigration Act requires that any person who has not completed matriculation or has not worked at least three years abroad needs an emigration clearance to travel to18 countries, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Malaysia, Libya, Jordan, Yemen, Sudan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Syria, Lebanon, Thailand and Iraq.

All passports requiring Emigration Check bear a seal on the last page.

Earlier this year, the Centre had decided to issue orange colour passports to persons requiring emigration check.

"This means that a different colour code is being implemented to discriminate uneducated and poor migrant labourers. If such discrimination is made among the citizens by the respondents, it will cause grave prejudice and difficulties to poor migrants when they travel abroad for employment or for any other purposes. When they arrive at the airports in other countries, the emigration officers therein will identify them as labourer/coolie or undereducated category person from the colour of the passport and for this reason they may be subjected for humiliation and harassment," stated the PIL, where co-petitioner Shajahan is a ECR passport holder.

Read the press release here