Diplomatic passports come under immigration scanner

New Delhi, May 1 (IANS) The misuse of diplomatic passports is under focus, with sleuths instructed to keep a watchful eye on people travelling abroad with this document after an MP was arrested for his suspected role in an immigration racket.

“We have received intimation from the Intelligence Bureau to keep a check on all those travelling on diplomatic passports. It’s a precautionary measure,” a senior immigration official told IANS.

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The directive has gone out to officials at other international airports in the country as well.

The matter has acquired urgency following the suspension of three immigration officials at the Indira Gandhi international airport who were alleged to have facilitated Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Babubhai Katara’s clearance through airport checks on earlier occasions.

Katara was arrested at the airport April 18 while allegedly trying to smuggle a 30-year-old woman and her 14-year-old son on an Air India flight to Canada by using the diplomatic passports of his wife and son.

The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) has admitted to a nexus between immigration officials and recruiting agents in illegal migration.

The diplomatic passport is a perk that is extended in the country to thousands of people and their spouses. Its extended list includes all 795 MPs, all Supreme Court and high court judges, all bureaucrats above the rank of joint secretary, and Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) officials.

In the case of the MEA, even a lower rank officer like a deputy secretary, director and under secretary and their respective spouses are given diplomatic passports.

Highly placed sources in the immigration bureau said a thorough check was in progress to see the number of trips undertaken by parliamentarians abroad in the last couple of years. In the standing committee’s report on external affairs, the MOIA has stressed on the urgent need for converting the Emigration Act into an effective instrument for prevention of irregular migration.

Commenting on the thriving nexus between agents and officials, the MOIA has argued for effective preventive measures, including frequent checks, against errant officials.

Individuals travelling on a diplomatic passport either on an official or a private visit have to send advance intimation of the itinerary of their visit as soon as it is finalised to the conference and protocol section for being communicated to the Indian missions in the foreign countries concerned.

In fact prior permission of the central government is required for accepting any foreign hospitality during diplomatic passport holders’ private visits abroad under Section 9 of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 1976.

Immigration services at the major international airports and the foreigners’ registration work in five major cities are handled by the Bureau of Immigration (BOI). The field officers in charge of immigration and registration activities in New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Amritsar are called Foreigners Regional Registration Officers (FRROs).