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The Delhi High Court recently, struck down the Office Memorandum (OM) dated July 13, 2021 by the Central government which required the judges of Supreme Court and High Courts to obtain political clearance for private visits abroad.
A division bench of Justices Rajiv Shakdher and Jasmeet Singh observed that,
“Accordingly, the OM dated 13.07.2021, to the extent it requires the judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts to seek political clearance qua private visits abroad, is struck down, in view of the reasons articulated hereinabove and given the fact that this issue has received the attention of this court on an earlier occasion, as noticed hereinabove.”
The plea filed by ne Aman Vachar contended that, judges of Constitutional Courts i.e., the Supreme Court and the High Courts had to seek political clearance qua private visits to foreign countries, which infringed not only their right of privacy but also, in a sense, degraded and/or diminished the high office that they hold.
Also, on 15.02.2011, guidelines had been issued concerning foreign visits by judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts.
The high court, via judgment dated 25.05.2012, had issued a slew of directions concerning the 2011 guidelines.
“However, insofar as paragraph 9(a) of the 2011 guidelines was concerned, the court had, at that juncture, not deemed it fit to pass any directions vis-a-vis the said paragraph, as it had dispensed with the requirement of the judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts to obtain political clearance for private foreign visits,” the bench observed.
Further, a Special Leave Petition (SLP) was preferred against the judgment dated 25.05.2012, which was disposed of via order dated 29.07.2019.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta representing Centre has submitted that, “Information concerning judges travelling abroad is required even when they proceed on a private visit, so that in case of any emergency they can be extended requisite assistance, overlooks the fact that information about judges' travel plans is known the moment a request is made to the Consular, Passport and Visa Division of the Ministry of External Affairs [CPV, Division of MEA] for issuance of a ‘Visa Support Notes Verbale’.”
He further said that, in any case, if an Indian citizen [which includes a judge] was caught in a crisis, Indian embassies/Missions were duty-bound to extend assistance to the extent possible, as and when they received information of such an occurrence.
Taking into account the factual matrix of the present case the bench observed that,
“Insofar as the instant O.M. dated 13.07.2021 requires judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts to seek political clearance for private foreign visits, it is uncalled for, given the high offices they are holding, especially given the fact that nothing has changed since the 2011 guidelines were issued.”
“Since we have struck down the O.M. to the extent it requires judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts to obtain political clearance qua foreign (private) visit, the said communication, which is, dated 18.08.2021 will get truncated to that degree,” bench further noted.
The petitioner had prayed for the following reliefs -
“(a) Set aside and/or quash the notification/ office memorandum dated 13.07.2021 issued by the Union of India through the Ministry of External Affairs, CPV Division, Delhi;
(b) Set aside the communication dated 18.8.2021 issued by the Ministry of Law and Justice;
(c) Stay the operation of the notification/ office memorandum dated 13.07.2021 issued by the Union of India through the Ministry of External Affairs, CPV Division, and Delhi during the pendency of the present application.”
[Case Title – Aman Vachar v. Union of India]
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