In a relief to Jignesh Shah, the Bombay High Court has directed the Central Bureau of Investigation to return his passport that has been in CBI’s custody since March 13, 2014.
Justice PD Naik heard the criminal revision application filed by Jignesh Shah, prime accused in the multi-crore NSEL-FTIL scam. The court held that the CBI only had the authority to seize the passport which it did, but not impound it. Such powers only lie with the Passport Authority under Section 10(3) of the Passport Act, the court said.
When Jignesh Shah got bail on March 22, 2017, the special court imposed certain conditions. Shah was restricted from leaving India without the court or CBI’s permission.
Shah filed an application before the special court seeking return of the passport on the ground that seizure of the passport for so long was illegal. In the application, it was contended that the earlier application for the return of passport was rejected by the said court on the ground that investigation is in progress. However, thereafter there is a significant change in the circumstances because the CBI has completed the investigation into the matter and filed a charge sheet in the court. The applicant has also been granted bail by the court.
It was also pointed out that the co-accused had preferred an application before the said court seeking the return of passport which was allowed by order dated October 27, 2014.
The said application was rejected by the special court and Shah filed a revision application before the high court.
Submissions and Judgment
Senior advocate Amit Desai appeared on behalf of Shah and submitted that an application was filed by his client before the special court and in the application, it was contended that the passport of the applicant was seized by the CBI on March 13, 2014, during the search of his premises. The investigation is over and Shah intends to move abroad, but he is unable to do so due to the seizure of passport.
The said application was opposed by CBI counsel Hiten Venegaokar, who said that the offence is serious in nature and considering the applicant’s role in the case, there is the likelihood of ‘applicant fleeing away from justice’. Hence the passport is required to be detained until the investigation is completed.
The court accepted Amit Desai’s submission that the police may have the power to seize the passport under Section 102 of CrPC but seizing it for so long amounts to impounding. But the police or the CBI does not have the power to impound the passport under Section 10(3) of the Passport Act, only the Passport Authority does.
The court said: “The illegal impounding therefore cannot be continued by handing over the passport by the respondents to the Passport Authority after a lapse of more than three years. However, it would be open to the Passport Authority to initiate any action under Section 10(3)(e) of the Passport Act. The passport, however, is required to be returned to the applicant.”