An innocuous-sounding office memorandum dated November 30, 2022, issued by the External Affairs Ministry ostensibly “to ease hard-ship faced by the Indian passport holders at the time of surrender of Indian passport”, has proved to be the proverbial octopus with six arms and two legs.

One of the arms points to the possibility of the rules of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019, being framed, and the other arms can act as the decimator of the citizenship of Goans and of the Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) scheme itself.

The office memorandum divides into various categories the issuing of surrender certificates in cases involving the delayed surrender of a Portuguese passport. But hidden in it is a category that can, in the manner being interpreted, completely skew Goa’s demographics, impacting the lives of thousands of Goans.

The category in question is: “A person who gets Indian passports issued/reissued by suppressing material information about his/her having obtained foreign nationality irrespective of the fact that the passport holder has used it for travel or not.” The Central government proposed revocation of the passports of such people by invoking Section 10 of the Passports Act, 1967, and began implementing it vigorously.

The “internal” memorandum became conspicuous by its application to Indian citizens, including over 100 Goans over one year. It created a flutter as it resulted in the revocation of the Indian passports of Goans who got their births inscribed in the Portuguese Central Registry, which is part of the process of obtaining a Portuguese passport either for themselves or their children or grandchildren.

Inscribing of birth

This inscribing of birth, which Portugal now sees as a marker of Portuguese nationality, is being treated as a marker of foreign nationality by India too. Non-disclosure of the inscription of the birth record in Portugal is also treated by India as non-disclosure of acquisition of Portuguese nationality.

A corollary to this is that someone who seeks renewal of or surrender of their Indian passport is treated as one who “suppressed material information about his/her having obtained foreign nationality”.

The memorandum was neither displayed on the website of the External Affairs Ministry nor made accessible to those whose passports were revoked on that basis without a hearing. It was finally obtained under the Right to Information Act. The memorandum itself states that the pecuniary penalty list framed by the Ministry for those who contravened the provisions of the Passports Act, when applying for surrender of their Indian passport, was declared null and void by the High Court of Kerala, and that the memorandum was issued to decide another course of action against violators.

It is clear that the External Affairs Ministry, through the memorandum, is trying to piggyback on the Kerala High Court judgment in Citizen Legal Right Association v. Union of India [WP(C) No.7945/2018], when the judgment had clearly stated that within the scheme of the Passports Act, passport-issuing authorities cannot impose penalties but can only initiate prosecution in a court of law.

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