Indian residents in the UAE had vehemently opposed plans to change the colour of the passport from navy blue to orange.
Indian residents in the UAE are heaving a sigh of collective relief as the Indian government has decided to do away with plans of an ‘orange passport’ for residents with an ECR Status.
It is said that the MEA decided to scrap the passport reform plans after the government received “several individuals and collective representations requesting to reconsider these two decisions”.
Indian residents in the UAE had vehemently opposed plans to change the colour of the passport from navy blue to orange for people with an Emigration Clearance Required (ECR) status.
India scraps plan for orange-coloured passports
However, it was largely because a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed by Dubai-based lawyer Shamsuddeen Karunagappally in the Kerala High Court that issued a notice to the Government of India seeking clarification on the issue, that may have resulted in a scrap of plans.
Karunagappally told Khaleej Times, “It is a victory for all Indians and I am glad that the reaction from the government was swift.” He added, “I filed the petition in the Kerala High Court on Thursday, January 25. A bench of Acting Chief Justice Antony Dominic and Justice Seshadri Naidu issued the notice on PIL filed by myself and co-petitioner Shajahan.” Both complainants are residents of Kollam district in Kerala.
He added, “The petition was submitted to the Secretary of MEA and Chief Passport Officer.” He added, “The move to change the colour of the passport is a grave invasion of immigrant workers’ right to privacy and dignity. There is no rational objective to be achieved through this segregation, it is shocking and demeaning.” His petition stated that the reforms challenge Article 21 and 14 of the Indian Constitution.
Karunagappally also stated that if NRIs wanted to apply for a dependents visa, the proof of relationship with parents is in the passport. “If we’d done away with that, getting alternative documents would’ve been extremely cumbersome,” he said.
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 Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in India had also announced a second plan early January 2018 to do away with the address page in the passport. This decision has been withdrawn as well, according to a statement issued by the foreign ministry on their website www.mea.gov.in.
“As NRI’s, we are relieved and we welcome the decision to withdraw the proposal to make two changes in the Indian passport. NRIs are also not eligible to apply for an Aadhar (India’s biometric identity) card. If not for a passport, we cannot avail any government services,” said KV Shamsudheen, Chairman, Pravasi Bandhu Welfare Trust.
Several NRIs living in the UAE had filed mass petitions and written e-mails, sending representations to the government. Community organisations such as Indian Association of Sharjah and Pravasi Bandhu Welfare Trust wrote letters to the Minister of MEA Sushma Swaraj. YA Rahim, president of IAS said, “We’re very happy that the government has retracted this decision.”
Mahadevan Vazhasseril, president of the Overseas Indian Cultural Society (INCAS) UAE committee said that they’d sent letters to the central government and alerted the state government as well, “By withdrawing this decision, all Indians are blessed. It is elected government’s responsibility to view all citizens equally, as it is our fundamental right. We are very happy that is has been reverted.”
FAQs at a glance
Q. What was the orange plan?
A. An orange coloured passport would’ve been issued to those with an ECR-status, which essentially are people who have not passed their Grade 10 exams or don’t pay income tax.
Q. What was to happen to the address page?
A. The MEA proposed the removal of the address page, which carried vital information about the permeant address, name of parents/ spouse, old passport details, and place and date of issue of old passport.
Q. What happened now?
A. The government had decided to withdraw all proposed changes to the passport. The government has scrapped its plan to issue orange coloured passports to those who have not passed their Class 10 examination. It has also decided not to discontinue printing the last page of the passport, which is used as a valid proof of address.
Q. What would it have meant for non-resident Indian passport holders?
A. As the address page has been retained, NRIs can now avail government services without providing an alternative proof of address or relationship.
Q. What is an ECR and an ECNR?
A. The ECR status is issued for applicants who have not Grade 10, not paying income tax, and travelling to 18 countries, mainly in the Gulf.
The ECNR status not stamped on Indian passports anymore. The default status is non-ECR (non-Emigration Check Required) for graduates and above if you are class 10 pass or pay Income tax. So, if your passport does not have an explicit ECR stamp, you are in the ECNR/non-ECR category.