TAMIL NADU

Orders today on return of Vaiko's passport

CHENNAI, JUNE 1. The Madras High Court will pass orders tomorrow on a criminal appeal petition filed by the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) chief, Vaiko, seeking return of his passport and permission to visit the United States.

Mr. Vaiko said the U.S. Consulate here had issued him a visa on May 24, 1999 and it was valid till May 23, 2009. Seeking the return of the cancelled diplomatic passport along with the visa, he said the document was neither seized nor was it to be marked during the trial against him in a POTA case. He also sought the court's permission to leave for the U.S. between June 3 and 20, taking his 11-month-old granddaughter and leaving her in the care of her mother, living in Chicago.

A vacation Bench comprising Justice Prafulla Kumar Misra and Justice A. Kulasekaran, before which the matter came up, reserved orders on the petition.

Opposing the plea, the public prosecutor, I. Subramaniam, submitted that Mr. Vaiko, facing criminal proceedings under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, should not have been issued a fresh passport at all. Stating mandatory provisions of the Passport Act had been violated, he wanted the designated authority to explain his action in court.

However, Mr. Justice Misra wondered whether the issue could be "collaterally challenged" in a criminal appeal. "If you are aggrieved (by the grant of passport) then you file a separate writ petition."

Mr. Vaiko's senior counsel, K. Chandru, argued that mere pendency of a criminal case would not disentitle the petitioner to a passport, and said the provisions of Section 6 (2) of the Passport Act only "enumerated reasons" for rejecting passport claims. It could not be read alone.

A counter-affidavit, filed on behalf of the Q Branch CID police, said there was a "legal prohibition" to issuing a passport to Mr. Vaiko. "As per Section 6(2)(f) of the Act, it is quite clear that the passport authority shall refuse to issue a passport or travel document to Mr. Vaiko, when criminal proceedings under the POTA were pending before the special court at Poonamallee."