Tripura govt red-faced after lookout circular for NRI quashed

Tripura’s BJP government has been left red-faced by an Agartala High Court order this week quashing a lookout circular intended to prevent the entry of an NRI hailing from the state into India.

Saumen Sarkar, a Vice-President with the Bank of America, runs the Tripura Infoway news portal that focuses on his home state.

Sarkar says he has encouraged fearless reporting in his news portal which got him into trouble with both the former ruling CPI-M and then with the incumbent BJP governments.

His portal has attracted defamation cases from CPI-M state secretary Gautam Das and incumbent Chief Minister Biplab Deb, besides other leaders of both camps.

The state government on January 18, 2020, moved for and finally secured a lookout circular against Sarkar, who periodically visits his parents and relatives in Agartala.

Sarkar immediately challenged the lookout circular in court, saying that this was a ploy to prevent him from visiting his ailing parents.

“I have committed no grave offense like money laundering or murder, so the lookout circular was clearly motivated,” Sarkar said, adding: “And I contesting the cases by engaging Indian lawyers because I have full faith in Indian justice.”

Justice Subashis Talapatra of the Agartala High Court has now quashed the lookout circular.

“In the present case, no warrant of arrest issued by any court against the petitioner is pending and the petitioner is being represented by his engaged counsel. The notice under Section 41A of the Cr.P.C. was issued at a time when it was physically impossible for the petitioner to travel to India for contagion (Covid-19 lockdown).

“Hence, his inability to appear before the police cannot be termed as deliberate. So far the question of impounding of the passport is concerned, no case has been made out by the respondents No.1 and 2 (Tripura government, DGP and SP-West Tripura district) in terms of Section 10(3) of the Passport Act. That apart, Passport Act does not authorize the Indian Passport Authority to cancel US Passport,” Justice Talapatra said in his judgement, now available with the IANS.

He ruled that the case of the petitioner falling under Section 10(3)(e) of the Passport Act cannot be sustained as the authority cannot be extended unless the travel document including a passport had been withheld by the criminal court in India or the holder of the passport has committed any offence.

“So far the clause-10 (3)(h) is concerned, this will not apply in the case of the petitioner as there is no warrant of arrest or summon for appearance of the petitioner is pending being issued by a court of law,” Justice Talapatra observed.

“It is apparent that the passport authority has refused to act in accordance with the request made by the respondents No. 1, 2 and 3 (Tripura government, DGP and SP-West Tripura).

” This court cannot shut its eyes to the right of the petitioner. The action which curtails or takes away the personnel liberty has to be reasonable and proportionate and has to be considered not in the abstract or hypothetical considerations. Having regard to all these aspects as recorded above, the lookout circulars as issued against the petitioner stands quashed.”

The judgement embarasses both the BJP-ruled state government and Tripura’s leading opposition party, CPI-M, which ruled the state for two decades until it was ousted from power three years ago.

An elated Sarkar told IANS over WhatsApp from New York that his faith in Indian justice system has been fully vindicated.

“Ever since I started my news portal to encourage fearless journalism in my home state which I love so dearly, both the CPI-M and now the BJP have been after me. They have harassed my ailing parents and they conspired to prevent me from visiting them. Just see how inhuman they are.”

A state government spokesman told IANS that the cases of defamation and libel against Sarkar still stands and only the lookout circular has been quashed.

“He should not celebrate his victory too soon,” the spokesman said, pointing to a part of the judgement that said: ” It is made absolutely clear that the observations as made above reflect in no manner on the merit of the investigation, but the investigations should be brought to its end without delay.”