The Delhi High Court has struck down a central government office memorandum requiring the judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts to obtain political clearance for private visits abroad, saying that such a condition is "uncalled for" in view of the high offices the judges hold.
A bench headed by Justice Rajiv Shakdher, while dealing with a challenge to the mandate, noted that when certain guidelines were issued by the central government in 2011 in relation to the foreign visits by judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts, it had "dispensed with the requirement of obtaining political clearance for private foreign visits" and the same approach ought to have been followed this time as well.
"In our view, in the instant O.M (Office Memorandum), the same regime ought to have been followed. Therefore, insofar as the instant O.M. dated July 13, 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," stated the bench, also comprising Justice Jasmeet Singh, in its order passed on April 1.
The Centre, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, defended the OM issued by the Central government through the Ministry of External Affairs and told the court that information concerning judges travelling abroad is required so that in case of any emergency requisite assistance can be extended abroad.
The high court opined that the stand overlooks the fact that 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".
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, the court added.
"Accordingly, the OM dated July 13, 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," the high court ordered.
The petitioner Aman Vachar challenged the condition on the ground that requiring judges of Constitutional Courts i.e., the Supreme Court and the High Courts to seek political clearance qua private visits to foreign countries infringed their right of privacy and also degraded and diminished the high office that they hold.
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