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An Analysis Of The Concept Of Look-Out Circulars

The concept of Look-out circulars might be relatively new to Indian jurisprudence, however the rationale behind it is of yore, and has been well-established as to how kingdoms and republics would have a system of stopping criminals and other nefarious elements from fleeing the clutches of justice.

We will now embark on a Case-Law analysis to discuss how the Court's deal with the concept of Look Out Circulars.
  1. Defenition Of Look-Out Circular:

    The concept of Look-out circular has not been defined anywhere. A Look-out circular can be said to be a coercive measure adopted by the State to restrict and regulate the movement of persons, who are accused of cognizable offenses, and in certain exceptional circumstances can be issued against witnesses as well.
  2. Procedure For Issuance:

    LOC is issued by the executive and is regulated by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. The earlier document which governed issuance of Look-out circulars was a circular dated 05.09.1979 and an office memorandum issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs dated 27.12.2000. It was felt that this 2000 document left too much discretion with the issuing authority and the Courts to deal with the question of issuance of Look-out circulars. The Ministry of Home Affairs with a view to change this issued an office memorandum dated 27.10.2010 to regulate and streamline the process of issuance of Look -out circulars. It is true that the said office memorandum does contain certain guidelines for issuance of LOC's as affirmed by the Courts there are still a few grey areas which need to be addressed.

    An LOC is issued at the request of an investigating officer made to the Bureau of Immigration, Ministry of Home Affairs. After the issuance of OM dated 27.10.2010 Public Sector Banks can also request for issuance of LOC.

  3. Against Whom The Loc Can Be Issued:

    In terms of the OM dated 27.10.2010 a LOC can be issued against a person accused of a cognizable offense when there are:- 1) NBW's issued against them 2) When they might try to avoid the due process of Law.

    The 2010 OM was amended in 2017 to expand the scope of the exceptions to include:
    1. Permitting issuance of LOC to prevent "tampering of bilateral relations/ economic interest of India".
    2. The term "larger public interest" was replaced with the term "larger national interest".
    3. In "exceptional circumstances" agency can restrict movement of persons who are a threat to sovereignty and integrity of India, and who may indulge in terrorist/anti-national activity.
Let us now examine how the Courts have dealt with the issuance of LOCs across a passage of time. The case-Laws are divided into 2 parts, the first half deals with the position prior to the amendment of 2017, and the subsequent ones discuss the position after the 2017 amendment.
  1. Sumer Singh Salkan Vs Asst. Director And Ors [ Wp(Crl)

    Facts:
    In this particular case domestic case violence case was filed against the Petitioner and his family by his wife. The Petitioner was a permanent resident of Canada, and Look-out circular was issued against him, due to which he was not allowed to travel outside the country. The Petitioner requested for a Writ of Mandamus to be issued against the Respondent's for quashing of LOC on the ground that it was perverse/illegal.

    Ratio Decendi:
    The Hon'ble Delhi High Court opined that the Respondents were aware of the whereabouts of the Petitioner throughout, and despite that made no attempts to extradite him. The Court's also opined that power to issue LOC and suspend passport is a draconian power and must be exercised with caution, and due-diligence. The Court quashed the LOC after recording an undertaking that the Petitioner would regularly appear before the Court.

  2. Vikram Sharma Vs Union Of India And Ors [Wp (C ) 10180/2019)

    Facts:
    Complaint was registered against the Petitioner in the crime against women cell alleging commissioning of acts under the Dowry Prohibition Act and Section 498 A of IPC. Subsequent, to this Look-out circular was issued against them, due to which Petitioner was unable to board flight.

    Delhi High Court:
    The Court emphasized that power to off-load a passenger from an aircraft was a draconian power and reference was made to the celebrated decision of Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India (1978) 1 SCC 248 wherein it was observed "there has to be application of mind by the authority that would enable it to come to the conclusion that impounding of passport is in the interest of the general public".

    In 2017 the Ministry of Home Affairs issued an amendment to the office memo of 2010 by virtue of which the grounds for issuing LOC were increased. After this particular memo LOC could be issued for: - 1) Cognizable offenses under IPC 2) to elicit cooperation in pending investigation , also if witness and most importantly a new ground was added that LOC could be issued to prevent a person from leaving whose departure would be " detrimental to economic interest of India & to preserve the sovereignty/integrity of India".

    Now let us examine as to how the Courts have been dealing with the interpretation of the term "economic interest of India in various decisions.

  3. Vikas Chaudhary Vs Union Of India [ Wp( C) 5374/2021]

    Facts:
    In the present instance the Petitioner was a director in a company known as Metal Crafts Pvt Ltd and Astha Apparel Pvt Ltd. Income tax raid was effected on these companies and LOC was issued against the present Petitioner on the ground of " undisclosed foreign assets which are liable for prosecution under the Income Tax Act and Black Money Act.

    Delhi High Court:
    The Delhi High Court that despite the memorandum allowing LOC to be issued in circumstances of "economic interest of India" could not be expanded to justify any kind of coercive activity. The Court opined that right to travel abroad was included in Article 21 as per the dictum of Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India, and that there was no material to justify the stoppage of visits abroad, more so when the visits of the Petitioner abroad were related to his work of import and export. In the light of these circumstances the Hon'ble Delhi High Court quashed the LOC issued.

  4. Mrs. Leena Rakesh Vs Bureau Of Immigration[ Wp( Civ) 11213/2022

    Facts:
    Petitioner and her husband had taken a loan of Rs 62,00,000/-( Sixty-Two Lakh rupees Only) and had also provided securities which were more than the loan amount. The bank got issued LOC against them and prevented the Petitioner from returning to the gulf, despite the Petitioner working as a teacher there.

    Karnataka High Court:
    The Karnataka High Court said that the interests of the Bank were adequately protected by the SARFESI Act, and held that Look-out circular could not be justified on the basis of this reason, and quashed the LOC issued against the present Petitioner.

    Now, let us examine some circumstances where the Court's have refused to interfere in the issuance of LOC by the authorities.

  5. Garikapati Venkateshwara Rao Vs Union Of India[ Wp( Civil) 6892 Of 2022]

    Facts:
    Petitioner was a personal guarantor to a loan amount of Rs 226,00,00,000/-( Two-hundred and twenty-six crore rupees only) and there was a default by the borrower to whom this person was a personal guarantor. In this instance the Court held that the LOC issued against the Petitioner was justified as the sum involved was huge and in light of compelling public interest, his travel rights could be restricted.

    There have been instances where people have been stopped for going abroad due to being accused of heinous offenses as the Court held that it is necessary to secure their presence during trial, and did not interfere in the issuance of LOC.

Conclusion:
The concept of Look-out circular which curtails the movement of a person is essentially an infringement on the right to free movement of a person. The Constitution of India although does not explicitly allow for a right to travel, the Supreme Court has held in the case of Khadak Singh vs State of Uttar Pradesh ( 1963 AIR 1295) and Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India that:
Right to life under Article 21 does not mean mere breathing, it has to signify more, and held right to life to include meaning right to travel abroad. We see that the Indian Courts have largely followed these dictums & mostly quashed LOC'S which have been issued for frivolous reasons and have only declined to quash LOC'S when there is some compelling interest, such as involving large sums of public money or when the Petitioner is accused of crime, and there is material to indicate that he/she will not cooperate and will try to flee the country.

In the above article we see how the Apex Court and the High Courts have interpreted the definition of Civil Contempt. We see that the Courts will not convict unless the disobedience is wholly wilful and made with the express intention of disobedience.

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