Prajwal Revanna case: Diplomatic passports for MPs and rules for cancellation | Explained

How is a diplomatic passport different from the ordinary blue passport? What are the passport rules for MPs? Why did the Centre delay the cancellation of Prajwal Revanna’s diplomatic passport?

Updated - May 28, 2024 09:06 am IST

Published - May 24, 2024 06:55 pm IST

NSUI members hold a poster of suspended JD(S) MP Prajwal Revanna during a protest, in Bengaluru, April 30, 2024.

NSUI members hold a poster of suspended JD(S) MP Prajwal Revanna during a protest, in Bengaluru, April 30, 2024. | Photo Credit: PTI

The story so far: Nearly a month after a Special Investigation Team (SIT) began probing allegations of sexual assault and abuse against Hassan MP Prajwal Revanna, sources in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) have confirmed that the Karnataka government’s request to revoke the diplomatic passport of the suspended Janata Dal (Secular) leader is “being processed.”

The development came after Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to cancel Mr. Revanna’s diplomatic passport and take “prompt and concerted actions” to ensure his return to India. In a second letter to the PM, dated May 22, 2024, the CM emphasised that “such abuse of privileges and deliberate acts of non-cooperation with legal proceedings deserve serious action by the Central Government or its instrumentalities to secure the presence of the accused to face investigation and trial.”

The suspended Hassan MP, who is believed to be in Europe, fled the country using his diplomatic passport last month after his constituency went to the polls in the second phase of the Lok Sabha elections, and hours before the SIT was constituted to probe charges of rape, sexual harassment, and criminal intimidation against him.

What is a diplomatic passport?

Under the Passports Act of 1967, the Central government issues three classes of passports — ordinary, official and diplomatic — and travel documents such as emergency certificates and certificates of identity, to those who wish to leave the Indian mainland by land, water or air.

The deep blue-coloured ‘ordinary passports’ are issued for personal travel for adults, with a validity of 10 years for adults and five years for minors they attain the age of 18. There was a proposal to roll out orange passports for citizens under the Emigration Check Required (ECR) category. The Narendra Modi-led government, however, rolled back its decision after Opposition criticism over its discriminatory nature.

Official passports with white jackets are issued to designated government officials and other individuals specifically authorised by the Centre to work abroad on official assignments.

The MEA issues a diplomatic passport, or Type ‘D’ passport to certain class of people who hold diplomatic status, or are deputed by the Indian government for official duty abroad. It is also issued to certain individuals who are authorised by the Centre to represent the country based of the position they hold or have held in the past. These include senior government officials, Ministers and Members of Parliament, and their spouses.

The Passport Rules, 1980, specify the classes of people eligible for a diplomatic passport. 

1. Officers of Branch A and Branch B of the Indian Foreign Service, as well as officers of the Ministry of External Affairs or other Ministries/Departments of the Government of India, are eligible for a diplomatic passport when proceeding out of India on official business or when posted to Indian Missions or Posts abroad. 

The spouse, children, and parents of such officers are also eligible for a diplomatic passport when traveling with or joining the official at their post abroad, provided their dependent status is recognised by the Ministry. Notably, family members of an officer on a diplomatic assignment abroad can be issued a diplomatic passport to stay in a different country other than the country of accreditation of the officer for study or other purposes approved by the Central Government. However, this passport must be surrendered when the officer’s diplomatic assignment ends or they return to the headquarters.

2. A person granted a diplomatic status either because of the nature of their foreign mission or the position they hold, as determined by the Centre, is eligible for a diplomatic passport. Their spouse is also eligible for a diplomatic passport when accompanying them.

Such a passport has a maroon jacket and is valid for five years or less, depending on the position of the holder and the nature of their assignment and visit. While ordinary passports are issued through a network of passport offices across the country, the Consular, Passport & Visa (CPV) Division of the MEA exclusively handles matters related to the issuance of diplomatic and official passports. 

Diplomatic passport holders travelling abroad for official purposes typically do not pay visa fees.

Are MPs entitled to diplomatic passports?

In the context of MPs, while diplomatic passports can be used for private visits like tourism or to visit friends and relatives, they are not meant to be used when travelling abroad for private business, as per the provisions.

Notably, MPs visiting abroad must inform the Secretary-General about the purpose and other information related to their visit at least three weeks in advance so that the MEA is informed of the same, according to a parliamentary bulletin of the Rajya Sabha Secretariat dated December 2022. In case of official visits, political clearances from the MEA are sought by the Rajya Sabha Secretariat on behalf of the Members. 

“Members, when using diplomatic passports, are required to apply for prior political clearance directly to the MEA by using the link and ensure that before proceeding abroad the requisite political clearance has been obtained. Requests may kindly be made at least three weeks in advance,” the bulletin says. This is also applicable for private visits like tourism or visiting friends, it mentions.

For a private visit to a foreign country requiring a visa, the MEA issues visa notes after the member submits a specific request with the necessary political clearance. 

Then how did Prajwal Revanna travel abroad?

Diplomatic passport holders do not need a visa note from the MEA when travelling to any of the 34 countries with which India has mutual visa waiver agreements for diplomatic passports. Under this exemption, the permitted period of stay ranges between 30 and 90 days.

Germany, where Mr. Revanna allegedly fled to in April, is one of the countries that has an operational ‘Visa Exemption Agreement’ for diplomatic passport holders from India. A person travelling to Germany on a diplomatic passport can stay in the country without a visa for up to 90 days. 

Notably, the MEA has confirmed that Mr. Revanna did not seek the necessary political clearances before his travel, nor did the Ministry issue any visa note for his travel to Germany.

What are the conditions under which a diplomatic passport can be revoked?

According to the rules, a passport can be revoked or impounded if the holder has given false information, has been convicted of a crime, has pending criminal cases in an Indian court, or if doing so is in the national interest.

Notably, the power to revoke or impound a passport lies with the “passport authority,” which the Passports Act defines as an officer or authority empowered to issue passports or travel documents. This includes the Ministry of External Affairs, responsible for issuing passports to Indian citizens within the country and through Indian missions and posts abroad.

Section 10(3) of the Passports Act of 1967, which deals with ‘variation, impounding and revocation’ of passports and travel documents, mentions the specific circumstances in detail. 

As per the Act, a passport can be impounded or revoked if the holder is in wrongful possession or has provided wrong information to the authority; or if the “passport authority” believes that impounding or revoking the passport will be in the interests of the country’s sovereignty, integrity, security, maintaining friendly relations with a foreign country, in the interests of the general public; or any of the conditions of the passport have not been followed.

The passport of a person convicted by an Indian court of an offence involving “moral turpitude” and sentenced to at least two years in prison after the passport was issued can also be confiscated.

Further, a passport can also be impounded or revoked if there are pending proceedings against the holder in a criminal court, or if a court has issued a warrant or summons for the holder’s appearance or arrest, or if there is a court order prohibiting their departure from India, as in the case of Prajwal Revanna. Last week, a Special Court for Elected Representatives issued an arrest warrant against the absconding MP in the sexual assault case against him, based on a plea by the SIT investigating the case.

An earlier version of the article mentioned that privileges accompanied a diplomatic passport. However, certain privileges and immunities may be granted by the receiving State to a diplomatic agent under the Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Rights. The article has been updated to reflect the correct information.
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