Ministry of External Affairs : Important Updates

How Diplomatic Passports, visa regimes work?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Diplomatic Passport

Mains level: Operational Visa Exemption Agreements

Why in the news? 

After allegations of sexual abuse by Janata Dal (Secular) MP Prajwal Revanna came to light, the politician fled to Germany on a Diplomatic Passport.

What is a Diplomatic Passport? 

  • The normal passports, which have dark blue covers and are valid for 10 years (for adults) while the diplomatic passports have maroon covers, and are valid for five years or less.
  • Holders of such passports are entitled to certain privileges and immunities as per international law, including immunity from arrest, detention, and certain legal proceedings in the host country.

Who can get a Diplomatic Passport?

  • Diplomatic Status: Individuals with diplomatic status, such as diplomats representing the country abroad, are eligible for diplomatic passports.
  • Government-Appointed Officials: Government-appointed individuals travelling abroad for official business can receive diplomatic passports.
  • Officers of Indian Foreign Service (IFS): Officers working under branches A and B of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), typically at the rank of Joint Secretary and above, are entitled to diplomatic passports.
  • Relatives of IFS and MEA Officers: Relatives and immediate family members of officers employed in the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) and Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) are eligible for diplomatic passports.
  • Authorized Individuals for Official Travel: Select individuals authorized to undertake official travel on behalf of the government, such as union ministers and Members of Parliament (MPs), may receive diplomatic passports. The validity of these passports is concurrent with the term of the MP.

Surrender of Diplomatic Passport by MPs: 

  • Individuals who are disqualified from their positions, such as MPs, are required to surrender their diplomatic passports. For example, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi surrendered his diplomatic passport after being disqualified as an MP.

Why did Prajwal Revanna not need a visa to travel to Germany?

  • Operational Visa Exemption Agreements: India has operational visa exemption agreements with certain countries, including Germany, for holders of diplomatic passports. These agreements allow diplomatic passport holders to travel to these countries without requiring a visa, provided their stay does not exceed 90 days.
  • Reciprocal Deal with Germany: A reciprocal deal signed in 2011 between India and Germany exempts holders of Indian diplomatic passports from obtaining a visa for travel to Germany.
    •  India has similar agreements with other countries, such as France, Austria, Afghanistan, Czech Republic, Italy, Greece, Iran, and Switzerland, where diplomatic passport holders are exempted from visa requirements.
  • Operational Visa Exemption for Other Passport Holders: India also has agreements with 99 other countries where not only diplomatic passport holders but also those holding service and official passports can avail of operational visa exemption for stays up to 90 days.
    • Countries in this list include Bahrain, Brazil, Egypt, Hong Kong, Oman, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates.
  • Despite not needing a visa, Prajwal Revanna should have applied for prior political clearance for his private visit to Germany. Members using a diplomatic passport are required to apply for political clearance directly to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) before proceeding abroad.

Who can revoke a Diplomatic Passport?

  • Court Order Requirement: The government can revoke a diplomatic passport only after a court order to that effect. The relevant provisions of the Passport Act 1967 stipulate that revocation of a diplomatic passport may occur upon orders from a court during proceedings concerning an offence allegedly carried out by the passport holder before a criminal court.
  • Passport Authority’s Discretion: The Passport Act empowers the passport authority to impound or revoke a passport under various circumstances. These include instances where the holder is in wrongful possession of the passport or obtained it by suppressing material information or in the interests of India’s sovereignty and integrity or friendly relations with foreign countries.
  • Conviction by Indian Court: A diplomatic passport can be revoked if the holder has been convicted by a court in India and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years.

What is the Henley Passport Index?

  • The Henley Passport Index is a renowned ranking system that assesses the strength of passports based on the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa.
  • It utilizes data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and is enhanced by Henley & Partners’ research team.
  • In the latest 2024 ranking, India’s rank has slipped one place to 85th, despite the number of visa-free destinations increasing to 62 countries

Way forward

  • Enhanced Oversight and Accountability: Implement stricter oversight mechanisms to monitor the issuance and use of diplomatic passports. Regular audits and reviews can help identify any discrepancies or misuse.
  • Strict Enforcement of Surrender Rules: Enforce existing rules mandating the surrender of diplomatic passports by individuals who are disqualified from their positions, such as Members of Parliament.


Mains PYQ 

Q Analyse the circumstances that led to the Tashkent Agreement in 1966. Discuss the highlights of the agreement.

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