The Ministry of External Affairs has blamed Delhi Police and passport authorities for issuing the travel document without proper verification to real-estate baron Sushil Ansal despite his conviction for the 1997 Uphaar cinema fire, which claimed 59 lives, and other pending criminal cases.
In an inquiry report placed before Justice Najmi Waziri of the Delhi High Court, the ministry has stated that in 2000 and 2004 additional booklets were issued to Ansal based on a declaration given by him as police verification was not required for that.
However in 2013, when he sought a fresh passport under Tatkal scheme, police verification was carried out and the department gave a "clear" report based on which the travel document was issued to him, the MEA has said.
"When court cases were pending and previous conviction was done, it is not clear how the police verification done in 2013 failed to bring these aspects to light but the report received by the passport issuing authority from police was 'clear'," the MEA report said.
The court had asked the MEA to carry out an inquiry against the passport officers who had repeatedly issued the travel document to Ansal in 2000, 2004, 2013 and 2018 and to submit a report before it.
The report by MEA's joint secretary (Gulf division) said Ansal voluntarily surrendered his passport in August 2017 and said he had inadvertently declared that no criminal proceeding was pending against him.
The Regional Passport Office (RPO) thereafter put the passport in safe custody and levied a penalty of Rs 5,000 on him for the false declaration, the report said.
Ansal then applied for a passport in 2018 after getting a no-objection certificate from a trial court, the report said and added that despite two adverse police reports, the RPO issued him a short-term travel document in August this year after moving his application status to post-PV from pre-PV (police verification).
It said it was not clear why his application was suddenly moved from pre-PV to post-PV without any written explanation or reason recorded in June 2018.
"It is not clear why the passport office failed to record the reasons for overruling the adverse reports in May-June 2018 and also did not send a speaking order/show-cause notice to the applicant asking him why passport services should not be denied to him (Ansal)," it said.
Ansal was issued additional booklets of passport in 2000, 2004 and 2013, and in all these applications he maintained that he was not charged in a criminal case or issued summons or warrants and not convicted by any court in India, the court was informed through passport office records.
The report said it was inquired why an incomplete form was accepted in 2000 and 2004, even if it was only for issuing additional booklets. It said it was possible the application was processed in a "very routine" manner and not much scrutiny was done to ensure the application was complete in all respects.
"The concerned officers including the retired officers, who handled the application were called and it could not be established that it was a deliberate attempt to accept incomplete applications," it observed.
The court was hearing a plea moved by Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT), through its chairperson Neelam Krishnamoorthy, alleging that Ansal played a fraud on the authorities while getting his passport renewed.
When a complaint was made by the complainant to the authorities, an inquiry was initiated, which found that Ansal was convicted and other cases were pending against him, and he surrendered the passport.
The plea alleged that Ansal held two passports, which showed that they were issued and renewed without following the procedure and he did not even take an NoC from courts in the past 21 years, during which he travelled abroad extensively.
Krishnamoorthy, who lost two children in the tragedy, has been fighting a legal battle on behalf of the victims' families for the last 20 years.
The MEA's report, however, said due to confusion arising out of the mention of a wrong passport number, it was alleged that Ansal possessed two or three passports.
It said it came to light after checking the system and the history of passports issued to him, that at no point Ansal was issued more than one valid passport.
In an affidavit before the court, the RPO has said Ansal seemed to have "deliberately concealed" the details of the criminal case against him.
The submission was made in response to the court's October 3 query as to how a passport was issued in 2000, 2004 and 2013 to Ansal "when the world knew in some way or the other" about the Uphaar tragedy and that he was involved in it.
The high court had noted that Ansal was issued a passport even after his conviction by a trial court in the case in 2007.
As per rules, the passport application for new/ re-issue/ replacement of lost/ damaged passport issued by the MEA mandates the applicant to disclose whether he is involved in a criminal case or not and to produce the NOC from the court concerned in case they are involved in any criminal prosecution.
The apex court last year asked Gopal Ansal to undergo the remaining of one-year jail term in the case, while his elder brother Sushil Ansal got relief from incarceration with a prison term already undergone by him in view of age-related complications.
A fire at Uphaar cinema during the screening of Hindi film 'Border' on June 13, 1997 killed 59 people.