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The Supreme Court of India emphasized in Satish Chandra Verma vs. Union of India that the freedom to go abroad, like marriage and family, is a genuine and vital human right. “The right to travel abroad is an important basic human right because it fosters an individual’s independent and self-determining creative character,” wrote a bench led by Justices L. Nageswara Rao and M.R. Shah, “not only by expanding his freedoms of action but also by expanding his scope of experience.

In this case, an IPS officer filed an appeal, from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. He claimed in his appeal that he was the subject of a departmental inquiry and that the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) had denied him permission to visit relatives overseas because of it. Despite the fact that Inspector General of Police Satish Chandra Verma was not facing any criminal charges, the Madras High Court upheld the Central Administrative Tribunal’s decision that he may not go abroad without first obtaining Vigilance clearance. The Supreme Court overruled the verdict of the High Court, citing Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India and Kent vs. Dulles, two landmark US Supreme Court cases (1958).

In its judgment in Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India, the bench stated that the right to travel abroad is a fundamental human right since it strengthens an individual’s independent and self-determining creative character by widening his job experience and giving him more freedom of action. The Supreme Court noted the ruling in the latter case, which stated that “freedom to go abroad is a fundamental human right with major societal relevance.” The Supreme Court said that the freedom to travel globally is a core human right that also relates to private life, such as marriage, family, and friendship.

Right to travel internationally

Article 19 of the Indian constitution guarantees the freedom to freely move beyond Indian territory; nevertheless, the right to go abroad is derived from Article 21’s right to life and personal liberty.

Liberal interpretations have given the phrase “life and liberty” huge meanings in this article. Life here refers to both one’s physical existence and one’s quality of life. Personal liberty, on the other hand, encompasses a wide variety of rights in addition to freedom from physical constraint or confinement.

The Supreme Court stated in Maneka Gandhi v. UOI that the term “personal liberty” as used in Article 21 has a very broad meaning and it encompasses a plethora of rights that include man’s personal liberty, some of which have been elevated to the status of separate fundamental rights and given additional protection under Article 19.

Article 21 defines the state’s negative duty, although it does not totally nullify restrictions or limitations if carried out in line with the “process” prescribed by law. An individual’s personal liberty and the rights that come with it, as well as the individual’s duties and obligations to the state and other citizens, must be balanced. Satwant Singh Sawhney v. D. Ramarathnam: The Supreme Court ruled in Satwant Singh Sawhney v. D. Ramarathnam that the “expression” of personal liberty includes freedom of movement and travel internationally. The necessity to hold a passport in order to
legitimately going overseas may raise the question of whether it is a barrier to an individual’s right to travel abroad, however, the Supreme Court found against this in the same case.

In a nutshell, the right to freely travel throughout India’s territory and the right to freely travel abroad both fall under the umbrella of “personal liberty,” although being provided under separate parts of the constitution. Specific limits on traveling overseas may apply, which must be followed in compliance with legal regulations. There are several fair restrictions on roaming freely throughout India.

Article 12 of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights addresses the freedom to travel abroad in international law. It empowers anybody, including themselves, to exit any country. As a result, it enhances the basic freedom of foreign travel. However, the Covenant, like the Indian Constitution, places limitations on the right “as may be needed by law to protect national security, public order, health, or morality in the interests of others’ rights and freedoms,” and these restrictions are compatible with the Covenant’s other rights.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which oversees the Covenant’s implementation, has underlined that Article 12 covers both the freedom to leave for permanent emigration and the right to travel abroad. It also safeguards a person’s freedom to pick his or her own travel destination.

While the UN Human Rights Council asserts that the right to dwell in a country includes the right to get the necessary travel documents, the Supreme Court has a different view on the passport and travel document problem. In Satwant Singh Sawhney v. D. Ramarathnam, the Supreme Court argued that a passport is a political document with no absolute right to get one because it is up to the state to give or deny one. The government does not appear to need to assert someone it does not think acceptable because the document states the holder’s respectability.

When there is a dispute between national and international law, the Supreme Court stated in Gramophone Company of India vs. Virendra Pandey in 1984 that national law shall prevail.

The right to travel freely across the world has been recognized by the Supreme Court as a fundamental right. Following Article 21, it is suggested that a new article, namely Article 21A, be included with the words “A21. (2) Nothing in section (1) stops the State from implementing legislation that sets appropriate boundaries in the interests of India’s sovereignty and integrity, friendly relations with other states, and the general public.” An individual provision for the right to travel abroad might help to accelerate the implementation of this critical right, which is now underway.

Written by Muskan Patidar student at Kirit P. Mehta School of law (NMIMS), Mumbai.

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