Leena Manimekalai Moves Madras HC Challenging Order to Impound her Passport

Manimekalai's passport was impounded on the grounds of a pending criminal defamation case against her, filed by director Susi Ganeshan after Manimekalai accused him of sexual assault during the 2018 #MeToo movement.

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New Delhi: Filmmaker Leena Manimekalai has filed a writ petition in the Madras high court challenging an order to impound her passport, Bar and Bench reported on September 15.

Her passport had been impounded on September 9 by the regional passport officer, Chennai, under Section 10 (3) (e) of the Passport Act, 1967, which allows for a passport to be impounded if an offence committed by the passport holder is pending before a court.

The case pending against her is one of criminal defamation, filed in 2019 by director Susi Ganesan, following Manimekalai’s accusations of sexual assault against him during the #MeToo movement in 2018.

According to Manimekalai, she had received an email from the passport authority in February of this year issuing a show-cause notice and asking her to explain why her passport should not be impounded under the aforementioned section of the Passport Act.

Despite replying to the email in March, she said that she received another such email in August, once again issuing show-cause notice and that there was an adverse Police Verification Report against her. She replied to the email the next day, yet, the passport authority impounded her passport on September 9.

Manimekalai’s writ petition, filed through advocate V.S. Senthil Kumar, challenged the passport authorities order as being “arbitrary, unjust and unwarranted” since it did not take her replies to the notices into consideration, Live Law reported.

The petition further notes that it is a “well-settled principle” that the mere pendency of a case against an individual is not sufficient grounds for impounding a passport. Moreover, it notes that Manimekalai’s passport had been renewed in 2017 when there had been no case against her, therefore it cannot be claimed that she was “suppressing material facts”.

Manimekalai is part of a graduate programme in film at York University in Toronto and has been asked to rejoin the campus physically for research work. The course had been functioning online due to the COVID-19 pandemic but resumed physically in July.

The petition also claims that Ganesan criminal defamation case has only been filed to harass Manimekalai. 

In 2020, Ganesan had moved a plea under Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) Section 104 (power to impound a document) in the Saidapet trial court to impound Manimekalai’s passport. The Saidapet magistrate had, however, closed the petition after Manimekalai filed an affidavit in which she assured the court that she would intimate it regarding her travel plans.

Manimekalai’s petition also notes that Ganesan had challenged the order before the Madras high court and that the court had remarked that it found “absolutely no ground to interfere” with the judgement of the lower court, according to the Bar and Bench report. 

According to the petition, the magistrate then reopened the case under a fresh petition filed by Ganesan and ordered the passport authority to impound Manimekalai’s passport and that the magistrate’s decision to review the order amounts to an illegality.

The petition seeks for the impounding order to be quashed by the Madras high court.