25 Nov 2023  |   06:34am IST

Legal experts slam revoking of passports of Goans having birth registered in Portugal

Say passport authorities can’t just summarily cancel the passport; the Passport Officer is bound by law and has no authority to revoke or impound any Indian passport unless the holder has violated the provisions of the law
Legal experts slam revoking of passports of Goans having birth registered in Portugal

Team Herald

PANJIM/MARGAO: Over the last one year, the Goa Passport Office has been revoking approximately one passport out of 15-20 sent to its office for surrendering the same.

Following a communication dated November 30, 2022, from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and Portuguese authorities, indicating that citizenship is acquired upon birth registration in Portugal, the Regional Passport Office, Panjim initiated the revocation process on the basis that the MEA is now using the birth registration date in Portugal as the citizenship acquisition date.

Typically, Indian passport reissues or renewals aim to correct names for submission to Portuguese authorities, facilitating Portuguese citizenship. Previously, obtaining a Portuguese passport or acquiring a Bilhete de Identidade (identity card) determined foreign nationality acquisition. Now, it hinges on the date of birth registration in Portugal.

Experts note that if a passport is revoked during surrender, one cannot apply for an OCI card, making them a foreign national, who has to, in turn, obtain legal permission for being in the country.

Former MLA and Adv Radharao Gracias came down heavily on the Union government for revoking the passports of Indian citizens merely based on registration of birth in Portugal.

“Just cancelling the passport is illegal. As per the law show cause notices must be issued, the party must be heard and then you cancel. You can’t just summarily and arbitrarily cancel the passport,” argued Adv Gracias.

Adv Gracias also emphasised that one has to renounce their citizenship first. He pointed out that under Rule 23 of the Citizenship Rules, a citizen has to make a declaration of renunciation of citizenship, which shall be registered by the MEA and acknowledged shall be issued for the same.

Adv Gracias demanded that the MEA circular be made available for the public as it is adversely affecting the people. He added that without seeing the circular, a thorough legal assessment cannot be made.

“Article 9 of the Indian constitution says that persons voluntarily acquiring the citizenship of another country, lose the citizenship of India. The emphasis is on voluntary acquisition,” said Adv Gracias.

Adv Cleofato Almeida Coutinho had a different opinion “According to the Portuguese nationality law of 2006, registration of birth in Portugal registry is tantamount to obtaining citizenship. When a Goan registers his birth in Portugal voluntarily he/she ought to know that. For a long time, obtaining a passport was considered as proof of citizenship. Now if the Indian government accepts registration as citizenship, there may be nothing wrong unless someone says that he or she has not voluntarily registered his/her birth,” said Adv Coutinho

Former Information Commissioner Adv Juino De Souza said, “How would any Passport Officer across various Passport Offices know as to whose birth is registered in Lisbon and or who has acquired a Portuguese national identity card (Bilhete de Identidade) and or who is holding a Portuguese Passport?”

“Passport Officer is bound by law and has no authority to revoke or impound any Indian Passport under Section 10 in Passports Act, 1967 unless the holder of the Indian Passport has violated the provision of law on the basis of which he obtained the said Indian Passport,” De Souza said. 


Outcry amongst travel agents over passport cancellation issue
MARGAO: The travel agents have reacted sharply against the manner in which the Regional Passport Office (RPO) has cancelled the Indian passports of over 70 individuals who had renewed their passports, merely because their births were registered in Portugal. 
“Look at the case of Mehul Choksi, the billionaire who is wanted by the Indian government for criminal fraud. He sought refuge as an Antiguan citizen to elude arrest, claiming immunity from Indian jurisdiction. In response, India dispatched a team of experts, including the CBI, who submitted an affidavit in Antigua, asserting that acquiring Antiguan citizenship doesn't absolve Choksi of his Indian nationality,” explained a travel agent.
“The Indian government then clarified to their court that Choksi would only cease to be considered an Indian national if he formally renounced his Indian Citizenship by giving a declaration.” the agent said. 
“This raises concerns about differing standards, where individuals like Choksi, accused of defrauding the country, face different rules compared to law-abiding Goans who are treated more harshly,” emphasised the agent.
An agent from South Goa criticised the passport office for handling the situation badly and questioned why proper awareness was not created about this change in rule.
“The government should have been empathetic and sorry to say but this feels like they are deliberately targeting these people. Why did they not give the public six-month notice about this circular, so that informed decisions could have been made in advance as opposed to the present scenario where you only find out all this after your passport is revoked,” said the agent.
Offering a different perspective, a travel agent from Margao however felt that this is a ‘storm in a teacup’ and that the citizens who lost their passports and OCI should not feel that ‘all is lost’.
“While the loss of OCI status is unsettling, it's not the end of the world. Before the introduction of OCI or Person of Indian Origin (PIO), individuals with Indian origins from other foreign countries could still reside in India. With an OCI you did not have to apply for a visa in 15 years. Without an OCI, one can apply for a yearly visa, followed by a 5-year visa, and subsequently, another 5-year extension at the end of each term,” explained the agent.

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