Read Order: AMAN VACHAR Vs. UNION OF INDIA
New Delhi, April 6, 2022: The Delhi High Court has allowed an application challenging an Office Memorandum dated July 13, 2021 issued by the Union of India, through the Ministry of External Affairs on the ground that it contained a pre-requisite for the Judges of the Supreme Court and the High Court to obtain political clearance for private visits abroad. The High Court has struck down this mandate.
The Bench of Justice Rajiv Shakdher and Justice Jasmeet Singh said, “Therefore, 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.”
It was mentioned in the memorandum that the Judges of the Supreme Court and High Court shall seek political clearance before they make their private visits abroad.
The substance of what had been articulated in the application, was that requiring judges of Constitutional Courts i.e., the Supreme Court and the High Courts to seek political clearance for private visits to foreign countries, infringes not only their right of privacy but also, in a sense, degrades and diminishes the high office that they hold.
The petitioner appearing in person also apprised this Court of the 2011 guidelines wherein certain guidelines were issued pertaining to the foreign visits of the Judges of the Supreme Court and High Court. Moreover, this Court in pursuant to the guidelines of 2011 pronounced a judgment whereby the Court 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 appellant/ petitioner thus was of the view that the same approach should have been followed in the present O.M. challenged. The appellant also highlighted that a Special Leave Petition was filed against the judgment of this Court mentioned above, however the same was disposed of without reforming any part of the judgment delivered by this Court on March 25, 2012.
Referring to the Solicitor General’s contention that the information concerning judges traveling abroad is required even when they proceed on a private visit, so that in case of any emergency they can be extended requisite assistance, the Bench clarified that the 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 for issuance of a “Visa Support Notes Verbale”.
The Court added that in any case, if an Indian citizen (which includes a judge) is caught in a crisis, Indian embassies/Missions are duty-bound to extend assistance to the extent possible, as and when they receive information of such an occurrence.
Taking into consideration the admitted facts and the referred judgment, the Bench opined, “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.”