Bank Has no Jurisdiction to Hold Foreign Passport, OCI Beyond 15 Days

In Koshy Varghese v UOI, [WRIT PETITION No.5628 OF 2022 (GM-PASS)], decided on Jan 5, 2024, the Karnataka High Court has held that a bank does not have the jurisdiction to withhold a foreign passport and it cannot hold OCI card beyond a period 15 days, even if it was handed over voluntarily, as they are properties of the respective issuing authorities.

The petitioner in the present case, is a citizen of the United Kingdom and holds an Overseas Citizen of India Card (OCI Card) for having been born in India. The petitioner, on his own volition, submitted an undertaking to the Bank to close the housing loan account of two persons and in lieu of the same, the Bank directed the surrender of the UK passport and OCI Card of the petitioner until the loan was cleared by him. These documents had been in the custody of the bank for a period of four years. The present case is a writ petition filed before the court seeking a writ of mandamus to be issued for the release of the passport and OCI card. The issue before the court in the present case is whether the petitioner was entitled to the issuance of a writ of mandamus for the release of his OCI card and passport which was in the custody of the Bank.

The petitioner contended that the bank did not have the authority to hold the passport issued by the United Kingdom, and that further, with reference to the OCI card only the Ministry of External Affairs under the Foreigners Act have the power to take any action, and therefore the bank could not withhold these documents.

The respondent contended that the submission of both the passport and OCI card was voluntary at the hands of the petitioner and there was no coercion for the same. It was also pointed out that the undertaking submitted by the respondent contained a paragraph attesting to the voluntary submission of the documents and therefore, the respondents contended that where the petitioner had voluntarily submitted the documents, they could not be held at fault.

The court after considering the contentions of both parties stated that the undertaking had no mention of the submission of the OCI card but only that of the passport. Regardless, according to the court, the passport having been issued by the United Kingdom did not come under Indian law and therefore even if the bank had collected the documents after receiving an undertaking from the petitioner for voluntary submission of the same, it did not have the jurisdiction to hold it beyond a period of 15 days. The court noted that these were documents that could only be withheld or impounded by the issuing authority and therefore should have been transmitted to their custody. Similarly, since the OCI card is issued by Ministry of External Affairs by Foreigners Regional Registration Office (‘FRRO’) under the Citizenship Act, 1955 read with the Foreigners Act, this card could also not be held by the bank and should have been submitted to the FRRO. Therefore, the court stated that even if the petitioner had of his own volition agreed to deposit the documents with the bank, the bank having no jurisdiction over it could not have retained them for long period of time. Thus, the court held that the petitioner was entitled to a writ of mandamus and directed the release of the documents to the petitioner.