Case Title: Koshy Varghese v UOI
A single bench of Justice M Nagaprasanna of Karnataka High Court while allowing the petition, ruled that the bank cannot withhold the passport or OCI card (overseas citizen of India) of the accused even if it is given voluntarily.
“Even if the petitioner had offered by way of an undertaking that he would deposit the OCI card and the passport with the Bank authorities, the Bank had no jurisdiction to keep it beyond 15 days. It is the property that had to be transferred to the authorities who have issued the passport or the OCI card.”
The petitioner, a citizen of the United Kingdom possessing an OCI card, was charged with criminal conspiracy and other offenses in response to a complaint filed by the Bank of Baroda, formerly known as Vijaya Bank.
According to the bank, the petitioner had voluntarily committed to closing two housing loan accounts on October 3, 2018. As the petitioner failed to fulfill this obligation, the bank instructed the surrender of his passport.
The petitioner argued that he was coerced into surrendering his original passport and OCI card. He claimed that the bank lacked the authority to retain either document and that only the Ministry of External Affairs, in accordance with the Foreigners Act, had the power to take any necessary action with respect to the OCI card. The bank rejected these allegations and pointed out that the petitioner had voluntarily deposited his original passport.
The bench stressed that, as the passport in question was not issued by any Indian authority, no entity within the country had the jurisdiction to withhold or impound it. Additionally, it added that the bank lacked the authority to retain the passport for an extended period of four years.
The bench noted that “Both the acts, on their face, are without jurisdiction. Even if it is voluntarily handed over to the Bank, the Bank does not have the authority to keep the aforesaid documents with it. The Bank ought to have immediately intimated the authorities who could have taken up proceedings in accordance with law,”
The court instructed that the petitioner’s passport and OCI card be returned upon satisfactory verification.