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Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) reverses decision to issue orange passport: Tracking how and why this govt move was criticised and withdrawn

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After the central government came under a lot of criticism, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Tuesday reversed its earlier decisions and announced that it would not issue a separate orange-coloured passport to people requiring emigration check and would continue printing personal details on the last page of the booklet.

On 12 January, the External Affairs Ministry had decided not to print the last page of the passport with the address of the holder. The last page of the passport includes the father or legal guardian’s name, the names of the holder’s mother, spouse and their address. It further decided to issue a separate orange-coloured passport to people with Emigration Check Required (ECR) status. Emigration check is required for passport holders, not having education beyond Class X, and having less than taxable income, who seek migration for employment.

“As the last page of the passport would not be printed now, the passport holders with ECR status would be issued a passport with orange passport jacket and those with non-ECR status would continue to get a blue passport,” an MEA statement had said. Two days later, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan also asked the Centre to “rectify” its decision to allot two different colours for passports, saying it amounted to violation of the Fundamental Right to Equality guaranteed to a citizen under the Constitution.

“The decision will discriminate between ordinary workers and educated ones,” Vijayan had said. He had also said that this would lead to a situation wherein those who have not passed the tenth standard would be considered as second class citizens. The Kerala chief minister had said that a majority of persons going abroad from the country were ordinary workers, including those who have not completed tenth standard.”You can see such persons even in business community…if separate colour passport is issued to them and they go abroad, it would create an impression that they are second class citizens,” he had said. And on Monday, a day before the government rescinded its decision, the Kerala High Court issued a notice to the central government on PIL challenging its decision.

In his plea, lawyer Shamsudin Karunagappally had argued that such a move would lead to segregation of people with low education and low economic status. The petitioner had contended that the move would make their underprivileged status known publicly through separate colour code. It is a grave invasion of their fundamental right to privacy and dignity, he had said.

There is no rational objective to be achieved through this segregation. It is demeaning and shockingly violative of the principle of equality, the petitioner had said. The move will create practical hardships to migrant workers, as the chances of harassment and exploitation will increase when their vulnerable status is made apparent on the passport through separate colour code, he had alleged. The petitioner was also aggrieved by the government’s decision to omit last page of the passport containing details including the holder’s address. The decision to reverse the original decisions was taken at a meeting, chaired by External Affairs Minister Sushma  Swaraj and attended by one of her two deputies VK Singh among others.

“The MEA has received several individual and collective representations requesting to reconsider these two decisions…the decision of the MEA on both these issues was reviewed in the light of these representations,” the MEA said in a statement. After comprehensive discussions with the various stakeholders, “the MEA has decided to continue with the current practice of printing of the last page of the passport and not to issue a separate passport with orange colour jacket to ECR passport holders”, the release had said.

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