The concept of Look-out circulars might be relatively new to Indian
jurisprudence, however the rationale behind it is of yore, and has been
well-established as to how kingdoms and republics would have a system of
stopping criminals and other nefarious elements from fleeing the clutches of
We will now embark on a Case-Law analysis to discuss how the Court's deal with
the concept of Look Out Circulars.
Defenition Of Look-Out Circular: The concept of Look-out circular has not
been defined anywhere. A Look-out circular can be said to be a coercive measure
adopted by the State to restrict and regulate the movement of persons, who are
accused of cognizable offenses, and in certain exceptional circumstances can be
issued against witnesses as well.
Procedure For Issuance: LOC is issued by the executive and is regulated by
the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. The earlier document which governed issuance
of Look-out circulars was a circular dated 05.09.1979 and an office memorandum
issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs dated 27.12.2000. It was felt that this
2000 document left too much discretion with the issuing authority and the Courts
to deal with the question of issuance of Look-out circulars. The Ministry of
Home Affairs with a view to change this issued an office memorandum dated
27.10.2010 to regulate and streamline the process of issuance of Look -out
circulars. It is true that the said office memorandum does contain certain
guidelines for issuance of LOC's as affirmed by the Courts there are still a few
grey areas which need to be addressed.
An LOC is issued at the request of an investigating officer made to the Bureau
of Immigration, Ministry of Home Affairs. After the issuance of OM dated
27.10.2010 Public Sector Banks can also request for issuance of LOC.
Against Whom The Loc Can Be Issued: In terms of the OM dated 27.10.2010 a
LOC can be issued against a person accused of a cognizable offense when there
are:- 1) NBW's issued against them 2) When they might try to avoid the due
process of Law.
The 2010 OM was amended in 2017 to expand the scope of the
exceptions to include:
- Permitting issuance of LOC to prevent "tampering of bilateral relations/
economic interest of India".
- The term "larger public interest" was replaced with the term "larger
- In "exceptional circumstances" agency can restrict movement of persons
who are a threat to sovereignty and integrity of India, and who may indulge
in terrorist/anti-national activity.
Let us now examine how the Courts have dealt with the issuance of LOCs across a
passage of time. The case-Laws are divided into 2 parts, the first half deals
with the position prior to the amendment of 2017, and the subsequent ones
discuss the position after the 2017 amendment.
Sumer Singh Salkan Vs Asst. Director And Ors [ Wp(Crl)Facts:
particular case domestic case violence case was filed against the Petitioner and
his family by his wife. The Petitioner was a permanent resident of Canada, and
Look-out circular was issued against him, due to which he was not allowed to
travel outside the country. The Petitioner requested for a Writ of Mandamus to
be issued against the Respondent's for quashing of LOC on the ground that it was
The Hon'ble Delhi High Court opined that the Respondents were
aware of the whereabouts of the Petitioner throughout, and despite that made no
attempts to extradite him. The Court's also opined that power to issue LOC and
suspend passport is a draconian power and must be exercised with caution, and
due-diligence. The Court quashed the LOC after recording an undertaking that the
Petitioner would regularly appear before the Court.
Vikram Sharma Vs Union Of India And Ors [Wp (C ) 10180/2019)
Complaint was registered against the Petitioner in the crime against women cell
alleging commissioning of acts under the Dowry Prohibition Act and Section 498 A
of IPC. Subsequent, to this Look-out circular was issued against them, due to
which Petitioner was unable to board flight.
Delhi High Court:
The Court emphasized that power to off-load a passenger from
an aircraft was a draconian power and reference was made to the celebrated
decision of Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India (1978) 1 SCC 248 wherein it was
observed "there has to be application of mind by the authority that would enable
it to come to the conclusion that impounding of passport is in the interest of
the general public".
In 2017 the Ministry of Home Affairs issued an amendment to the office memo of
2010 by virtue of which the grounds for issuing LOC were increased. After this
particular memo LOC could be issued for: - 1) Cognizable offenses under IPC 2)
to elicit cooperation in pending investigation , also if witness and most
importantly a new ground was added that LOC could be issued to prevent a person
from leaving whose departure would be " detrimental to economic interest of
India & to preserve the sovereignty/integrity of India".
Now let us examine as to how the Courts have been dealing with the
interpretation of the term "economic interest of India in various decisions.
Vikas Chaudhary Vs Union Of India [ Wp( C) 5374/2021] Facts:
In the present
instance the Petitioner was a director in a company known as Metal Crafts Pvt
Ltd and Astha Apparel Pvt Ltd. Income tax raid was effected on these companies
and LOC was issued against the present Petitioner on the ground of " undisclosed
foreign assets which are liable for prosecution under the Income Tax Act and
Black Money Act.
Delhi High Court:
The Delhi High Court that despite the memorandum allowing LOC to be issued in
circumstances of "economic interest of India" could not be expanded
to justify any kind of coercive activity. The Court opined that right to travel
abroad was included in Article 21 as per the dictum of Maneka Gandhi vs Union
of India, and that there was no material to justify the stoppage of visits
abroad, more so when the visits of the Petitioner abroad were related to his
work of import and export. In the light of these circumstances the Hon'ble Delhi
High Court quashed the LOC issued.
Mrs. Leena Rakesh Vs Bureau Of Immigration[ Wp( Civ) 11213/2022
Petitioner and her husband had taken a loan of Rs 62,00,000/-( Sixty-Two Lakh
rupees Only) and had also provided securities which were more than the loan
amount. The bank got issued LOC against them and prevented the Petitioner from
returning to the gulf, despite the Petitioner working as a teacher there.
Karnataka High Court:
The Karnataka High Court said that the interests of the Bank were adequately
protected by the SARFESI Act, and held that Look-out circular could not be
justified on the basis of this reason, and quashed the LOC issued against the
Now, let us examine some circumstances where the Court's have refused to
interfere in the issuance of LOC by the authorities.
Garikapati Venkateshwara Rao Vs Union Of India[ Wp( Civil) 6892 Of 2022]
Petitioner was a personal guarantor to a loan amount of Rs 226,00,00,000/-(
Two-hundred and twenty-six crore rupees only) and there was a default by the
borrower to whom this person was a personal guarantor. In this instance the
Court held that the LOC issued against the Petitioner was justified as the sum
involved was huge and in light of compelling public interest, his travel rights
could be restricted.
There have been instances where people have been stopped for going abroad due to
being accused of heinous offenses as the Court held that it is necessary to
secure their presence during trial, and did not interfere in the issuance of
The concept of Look-out circular which curtails the movement of a person is
essentially an infringement on the right to free movement of a person. The
Constitution of India although does not explicitly allow for a right to travel,
the Supreme Court has held in the case of Khadak Singh vs State of Uttar
( 1963 AIR 1295) and Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India
Right to life under Article 21 does not mean mere breathing, it has to signify
more, and held right to life to include meaning right to travel abroad. We see
that the Indian Courts have largely followed these dictums & mostly quashed
LOC'S which have been issued for frivolous reasons and have only declined to
quash LOC'S when there is some compelling interest, such as involving large sums
of public money or when the Petitioner is accused of crime, and there is
material to indicate that he/she will not cooperate and will try to flee the
In the above article we see how the Apex Court and the High Courts have
interpreted the definition of Civil Contempt. We see that the Courts will not
convict unless the disobedience is wholly wilful and made with the express
intention of disobedience.