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Protest spreads against India’s passport reform plan

Expats in UAE plan petitions and legal fight against passport colour change and last page removal

  • The normal navy blue passport (left) and the orange passport for the Emigration Clearance Required (ECR) categImage Credit: File
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Gulf News

Dubai: Protest is spreading against the Indian government’s passport reform plan with Indian expats in the UAE planning mass petitions and legal fight against the government move.

It has been a week since the government announced its plan to drop the last page that contains endorsements of family relationships, India address and Emigration Clearance Required [ECR] status of passport holders.

Since it is doing away with the last page, the government has also decided to change the passport jacket colour from navy blue to orange for ECR category citizens.

The ECR status is issued for applicants who have not passed matriculation (grade 10) and not paying income tax. They need to secure emigration clearance from the Protector of Emigrants when they seek overseas jobs in 18 countries, including the GCC countries.

The Indian expats in the UAE have been widely critical against these plans citing discrimination against blue-collar workers holding ECR passports and practical difficulties expats may face without valid documents to prove their family relationships and address.

The Indian missions in the UAE are yet to receive official notification related to the passport reforms.

With no response from the government regarding their concerns that have been widely reported including in Gulf News, expats here are now planning next steps of protest.

Some community organisations like Pravasi Bandhu Welfare Trust and Incas UAE have already written letters to Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj to retract tract the decision.

Others like the Indian Association Sharjah (IAS), one of the largest community groups in the UAE, are now planning mass petitions against the move.

“We are going to file mass petitions against the government’s move,” advocate Y.A. Rahim, president of IAS, told Gulf News.

He said the Indian Association would convene a meeting of all Indian community groups in the UAE and urge all of them to send memoranda to the government asking it to revoke the proposed passport reforms.

The petitions would be addressed to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Ram Nath Kovind, minister Swaraj and political party leaders like Amit Shah and Rahul Gandhi, he said.

“The government’s move to issue orange passport for workers and less educated people is a violation of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution which ensures equal protection before law and prevents discrimination. In a democracy, this article is a very important one. The government cannot change the basic structure of the constitution,” said Rahim.

He said the meeting of the community groups would be convened within 10 days and representatives would fly to New Delhi to meet the Indian president and seek his intervention to stop the implementation of the proposal.

Legal battle

Advocate Musthafa Zafeer O.V, managing director of Musthafa and Al Mana legal firm in Dubai, told Gulf News his firm would begin a legal battle in this case, if needed.

Zafeer’s firm had previously represented the Calicut Airport Users’ Forum which later won a campaign against the users’ fee at the international airport in Kozhikode.

“We are ready to file a petition against the ministry’s move in all High Courts in India under Article 226 which gives the power to the High Courts to issue certain writs for enforcement of fundamental rights.”

He said Article 14 allows reasonable classification. “Whether this move will fall under reasonable classification can be determined by the High Courts.”

Noting that the ordinance related to passport reforms was not debated in Parliament, he said there has to be at least a legal debate over this.

“Instead of going to one court, we would like to seek the opinion of judges in 29 courts. If it is going to division benches, we will have the interpretation by many more judges.”

Zafeer said the firm is taking it up as a social cause and would like to have voluntary organisations as petitioners to rally behind it.