Flip-flop on revoked passports leave trail of questions

| MAY 14, 2024, 12:53 AM IST

Was the revised circular issued by the Ministry for External Affairs on April 4 making passport revocation letter holders eligible for OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) status a gimmick ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in Goa? The sequence of events that led to the Centre subsequently issuing a corrigendum to its earlier circular throws open a host of questions leading one to believe that the entire sequence was orchestrated keeping the elections in mind. 

Now picture this. The MEA issued a circular dated April 4 stating: “MHA has now decided to accept “Revocation Certificate” as an alternative document of Indian nationals hailing from erstwhile Portuguese territories in India (Goa, Daman & Diu) who have acquired Portuguese nationality as per Portuguese Nationality Law, and who have been issued “Revocation Order” by the RPOs instead of Surrender Certificate.” 

The State government started beating drums of celebration and went to town calling it another achievement of the Narendra Modi government. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant in his Twitter post said, “That was great news for the people of Goa”. Sawant thanked PM Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and the Minister for External Affairs for “accepting the request of the State government”, and added that this decision would provide huge relief to thousands of Goans and their families.

Suddenly there comes a change and all those fiercely pursuing the matter with criticism of the “double engine” government fall silent, and a sense of acknowledgement fills the air. On April 30, MEA issued a corrigendum to its earlier Office Memorandum (OM) of allowing passport revocation letters for OCI registrations, clarifying that it is currently under consideration by MHA. This means in simple words, that the status quo remains on the 2022 revocation circular and the April 4 communication is now saying that “the government is only considering the change”.

On May 7, Goa votes and the sizeable electorate that was crying foul over the citizenship issue bury their hatchet and go about fulfilling their responsibilities, with the passport issue now reconciled. It comes as a big surprise that the State government kept mum between the date of the corrigendum of April 30 and May 7. 

In fact, the corrigendum surfaced only when this newspaper highlighted it in its edition dated May 12. The question is whether the State government suppressed the corrigendum so as not to disturb the electoral climate on the eve of the election, or whether it was indeed clueless of the MEA decision. Even the High Court took cognisance of the April 4 memorandum and disposed of two petitions that sought judicial help after the OCI applications were declined by the Mumbai FRRO due to passport revocation.

The recent corrigendum leaves the passport revocation wide open with the many pieces of the puzzle not falling in place. There is a paradigm shift from what is conveyed in the initial memorandum and the subsequent corrigendum suggesting that the Centre had a rethink over the issue. The MEA may be within its right to do what it has done, but the timing brings a lot of suspicion into play, especially when there was a campaign running in the background. The Deputy Solicitor General of India has stated that an official communication on the corrigendum is still being awaited throwing yet another question of the State’s role in the issue since the CM had earlier claimed it was his government’s request to the Centre when relief was given to those whose passports were revoked. It is for Sawant to seek clarification on what changed between April 4 and 30.

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