NEW DELHI, May 26: A Delhi court on Friday granted a no-objection certificate (NOC) to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for issuance of an 'ordinary passport' for three years instead of 10, the period for which it is normally issued, following an objection raised by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy.
The former Congress president had surrendered his diplomatic passport upon his disqualification as an MP.”I'm partly allowing your application. Not for 10 years but three years,” Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (ACMM) Vaibhav Mehta told Gandhi's counsel while pronouncing the order in a packed courtroom. Gandhi is scheduled to visit the United States in the first week of June during which he will attend meetings and interact with university students. He is slated to visit Washington DC, New York and San Francisco.
The Congress leader will likely address Indian Americans, meet lawmakers at the US Capitol, and interact with members of think tanks, Wall Street executives and university students during his stay.
The magisterial court, in the forenoon, reserved its order on Gandhi's plea for grant of NOC after hearing submissions of his lawyers and Swamy, who is the complainant in the National Herald case. Swamy opposed the application, saying it was ”devoid of any merit” and insisted the passport should be issued only for one year and renewed every year thereafter.
“It is a special case. The passport should not be issued for 10 years. It seems wrong,” he said, and claimed Gandhi's Indian citizenship was under question. He alleged Gandhi was a British citizen. Gandhi's advocate Tarannum Cheema contested Swamy's claim and said two petitions asking for initiating criminal proceedings against the Congress leader on the citizenship issue have already been dismissed by higher courts.
Cheema, along with advocates Nikhil Bhalla and Sumit Kumar, urged the court to allow the passport to be issued for 10 years since such relief has been granted by higher courts in cases involving more serious offences.
They said in the present case even charges have not been framed. The National Herald case is based on a private criminal complaint by Swamy against Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and others, accusing them of cheating, conspiracy and criminal breach of trust. Swamy has accused them of cheating and misappropriation of funds in acquiring ownership of the now-defunct daily newspaper National Herald. All of them were directors of Young Indian Ltd (YI), a company that was incorporated in 2010 and which took over the ”debt” of Associated Journals Ltd (AJL), the publisher of National Herald.
Swamy has accused Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and others of conspiring to cheat and misappropriate funds by just paying Rs 50 lakh by which YI obtained the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore which the AJL owed to the Congress party.
Earlier, the magisterial court had granted an opportunity to Swamy to file his reply to Gandhi's plea seeking a no-objection certificate, and observed that the right to travel is a fundamental right and courts had placed no restrictions on his movement. It said he has travelled several times without having to obtain permission.
The ACMM had also said, while granting bail to Gandhi in December 2015, the court had placed no restrictions on his travel and Swamy's plea for imposition of restrictions had been rejected. The magisterial court, while granting bail to Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in 2015 said the accused are reputed persons having deep political grassroots and there is no apprehension that they will flee.
”The applicant ceased to be a Member of Parliament in March 2023 and as such he surrendered his diplomatic passport and is applying for a fresh ordinary passport. By way of the present application, the applicant is seeking permission and no objection from this Court for issuance of a fresh ordinary passport to him,” Gandhi said in the application.
An ordinary passport that is generally issued to adults it is valid for 10 years. On March 24, Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency in Kerala was declared vacant after Rahul Gandhi, who represented it in the Lok Sabha, was disqualified following his conviction in a defamation case in which he was sentenced to a two-year jail term. The Congress leader, whose sentence has been suspended in the defamation case filed over his remarks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi's surname, had moved the court seeking a no-objection certificate on Tuesday.