Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the Legal Ocean or its editors, or any other representatives associated with Legal Ocean.

Look out Circulars (LOC) have been on a rising against high profile individuals like Chanda Kochhar, Vijay Mallya, Naresh Goyal, P. Chidambaram and many more in the past couple of years mainly due to the apprehension of such individuals leaving the country after allegedly committing an offence. Look out circulars are issued by the Government to prevent and monitor the entry or exit of persons who may be wanted by the different law enforcement agencies of the country.

What is Look out Circulars

Though there is no statutory definition of Look out Circulars, they were first recognised in 1979, by Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). The MHA issued guidelines for issuing LOCs in a letter dated September 5, 1979 (25022/13/78-F.I) (1979 MHA Letter). The 1979 MHA Letter stated that Look out Circulars are issued to check the arrival/departure of foreigners and Indians whose arrival/departure has been banned by the concerned authorities.[1]

Look out Circular is a communication received from an authorized government agency with reference to a person who is wanted by that agency for the fulfilment of a legal requirement, to secure the arrest of a person evading arrest and to nab a Proclaimed Offender so as to facilitate court proceedings by securing the presence of undertrials.[2]

Issuance of LOC can be traced back to Section 10A and 10B of the Passport Act 1967. Section 10A gives power to a designated officer to suspend passport or render a travel document invalid for a period of 4 weeks and Section 10B provides that every intimation given by the Central Government or the designated officer, to any immigration authority at an airport or any other point of embarkation or immigration, restricting or in any manner prohibiting the departure from India or any holder of the Passport or travel document. Additionally, Section 41 of CrPC requires police to arrest any person without warrants. In this manner, empowering different agencies to issue look out circulars to monitor the arrival/departure of foreigners and Indians or to restrict the arrival/departure of foreigners or Indians.[3]

Object and Purpose of Look out Circulars

In Kathirava Moorty vs Sub. Inspector of Police[4] it was held that the purpose of the LOC is for securing the accused, who has absconded for the purpose of investigation. In the present case, the purpose was met for which the LOC was issued. In view of the fact that the petitioner was detained and handed over to the Investigating officer and when the purpose was achieved it was held that the LOC had been abated.

The above position is akin to situations where bailable or non-bailable warrants are issued. Once when the accused is secured on the strength of such warrants and produced before the Court, the warrant lapses, since the purpose for which it was issued had been served. Similar is the situation, in case of Look out Circulars. If at all the presence of accused is required thereafter, it would give a fresh cause of action and hence a fresh LOC is required to secure the accused.

Kathirava Moortys decision (supra) also referred to S.Santhosh Kumar Vs The Superintendent of Police[5] wherein it was held that “the object of the Look out Circular is to ensure the presence of a person for interrogation, trial or inquiry and when the purpose of such circular is served by interrogating the person, thereafter, such circular is non-est in the eye of law.”

In the case of S.Santhosh Kumar (Supra), the petitioner was subjected to the enquiry at length by the respondent and Madras High Court held that keeping the look out notice in force is impermissible.

Undoubtedly, the Look Out Circulars have a serious adverse effect on the individuals against whom it is issued. Investigations in the matter may take time and such an individual cannot be restrained from discharging his employment obligations or to give-up his vocation to await the outcome of the said investigation.[6] As a result, LOCs cannot continue for an indefinite period.

Issuance of Look out Circulars

The procedure for opening a Look out Circular is made in MHA circulated dated 5th September 1979. It is stated that:

Courts also open LOCs on various legal matters. LOCs are based on the originator’s request who sent the communication to various immigrations check posts on the basis of substantive/procedural laws viz IPC, CrPC., Custom Act, Income Tax Act, NDPS Act, etc. All these communications are related to accused/suspected persons wanted in some cases. Besides, different courts also issue these communications in the form of LOCs including LOCs against those people who evade their presence in the Court of law during the course of a judicial trial.[7]

The Look out Circular is opened to trace the absconding criminals and also to prevent and monitor effectively the entry or exit of persons who may be required by law enforcement authorities. Chapter 25 – INTERPOL and Coordination Wing of CBI Crime Manual lays down the basic substantive guidelines regarding the publication of the LOCs in relation to Indian citizens issued by the MHA. It enunciates the following four cardinal principles :

  1. The request for the opening of LOC is required to be made to all immigration Check posts in the country in the Official Format prescribed by the MHA.
  2. The request for the opening of LOC must invariably be issued with the approval of an Officer, not below the rank of Deputy Secretary to the Government of India/Joint Secretary in the State Government/ Superintendent of Police concerned at the district level.
  3. The originating agency must ensure that complete identifying personal particulars of the person, in respect of whom the LOC is to be opened, are clearly mentioned in the prescribed proforma. The LOC will not be opened for less than three identity parameters other than the name of the subject.
  4. A LOC is valid for a period of one year. However, in case the originating agency wants to extend the validity beyond one year, it can ask for the extension before the expiry of the one year period. If no request is made for the extension of the LOC within the stipulated period of one year, the Immigration Officer concerned is authorized to suspend the LOC.

The issuance of Look out Circulars is also governed by Official Memorandum No. 25022/20/98-FIV, dated 27.12.2000 of the Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs (Foreigners Division).

It is issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs of the Government of India as well as certain other authorities such as Ministry of External Affairs; the Customs Department; the Income Tax Department; the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence; Central Bureau of Investigation; Interpol; Regional Passport Officers and Police authorities in various States.[8]

Condition Precedent for issuance of LOC

In Karti P. Chidambaram vs. Bureau of Immigration and Ors[9] Mr Subramanium emphatically reiterated that the condition precedent for issuance of a look out circular was an attempt to evade arrest. Madras High Court further observed that the Look Out Circulars are coercive measures to make a person surrender to the Investigating agency or the Court of law.

The Ministry of Home Affairs issued Official Memorandum dated 27.10.2010 laying down the guidelines for issuance of Look Out Circulars. The said Circular provided:

“Recourse to Look Out Circular is to be taken in cognizable offences under IPC or other penal laws. The details in column IV in the enclosed proforma or regarding the reason for opening LOC’s must invariably be provided without which the subject of a LOC will not be arrested/detained.”

Thus the Office Memorandum dated 27.10.2010, provides that the condition precedent for issuance of a LOC is the existence of reasons, which should be disclosed in the request for issuance of a LOC.  

Karti P. Chidambaram (supra) also referred to Shri. Vikram Sharma v. Union of India and others),[10] wherein the Delhi High Court passed an order dated 27.7.2010 observing that a request for issuance of a Look Out Circular had to come from either the Central or the State Government and that too only in the prescribed form signed by the officers of a certain rank. While Criminal Courts dealing with cases of criminal law enforcement could issue directions which might result in the issuance of Look Out Circular, there was no power vested either under the Code of Criminal Procedure or the Passports Act or under Circulars of the Ministry of Home Affairs vesting power on statutory bodies like the National Commission for Human Rights to issue Look Out Circular.

Instructions issued with regards to the issuance of LOC runs as under:-[11]

14Q: What do we mean by a look out circular(LOC)

Ans: LOC is a tool to prohibit restrict/regulate the entry, stay and exit of

  1. all under able persons.
  2. Whose presence is required to answer criminal charges.
  3. persons notified by INTERPOL.

15Q: How to include a wanted offender’s name in the LOC of MHA which in turn will be included in all 23 the International Airport immigration countries.

Ans: SsP/CsP have to write to Addl. DGP(INT) with all details to address the JD/DD(Immgn) MHA New Delhi and all CHIOs(Chief Immigration Officers) of International Airports for left India already but are likely to come back again, or those who are not supposed to leave the country as they are charged as accused in heinous crimes. In Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai & Kolkata, the Intelligence Bureau takes are of the immigration and in other international airports, concerned commissioners of police SSP are designated as CHIOs. For instance or Hyderabad International Airport. DCPb. SB is the CHIO.

16Q. What are the 4 broad categories of persons in LOC?

  1. Persons to be arrested.
  2. Persons not to be allowed to land in our country(Ban entry).
  3. Persons not to be allowed to leave our country(Ban exit).
  4. Persons whose movements are to be watched and reported.

17Q: What are the parameters to be included in LOC.

  1. Name in full and alias if any.
  2. Passport Number issuing office
  3. Nationality
  4. Date of birth
  5. Place of Birth
  6. Parentage
  7. Address with photograph

18Q. What are the various types of persons who can be included in the LOC?

  1. Persons with Terrorist or Militant Links,
  2. Belligerent Foreigners.
  3. Foreigners previously noticed for violations of visa conditions.
  4. Persons required by courts in criminal/civil cases who are absconding.
  5. Absconding Offenders wanted by Police/CBI/Customs/Central excise/Directorate of Rev. Intelligence/other agencies.

19Q: What is the upper limit for maintaining a wanted person name in LOC?

  1. Visadex cards after the expiry of one year will be weeded out unless and otherwise, the originator asks for a continuance.
  2. MHA warning circulates/look out instructions will be retained permanently until specific instructions are given for deletion.

In Sumer Singh Salkan vs Asst. Director &Ors[12]

Following questions were raised and answered by the Court

What are the categories of cases in which the investigating agency can seek recourse of Lookout-Circular and under what circumstances?

Recourse to LOC can be taken by investigating agency in cognizable offences under IPC or other penal laws, where the accused was deliberately evading arrest or not appearing in the trial court despite NBWs and other coercive measures and there was a likelihood of the accused leaving the country to evade trial/arrest.

What procedure is required to be followed by the investigating agency before opening a Look out circular?

The Investigating Officer shall make a written request for LOC to the officer as notified by the circular of Ministry of Home Affairs, giving details & reasons for seeking LOC. The competent officer alone shall give directions for opening LOC by passing an order in this respect.

Does Look out Circulars violate fundamental right to travel under Article 21?

It is the fundamental right of a person to move anywhere he likes including foreign countries under Article – 21 of Constitution. In the celebrated case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India [13] Supreme Court upheld the constitutional right of persons to go abroad.

But, the fundamental right to move anywhere including foreign countries could be regulated. Where persons involved in criminal cases are wanted for investigation, for court cases, persons, who are anti-social elements their movements can be regulated. The need may arise to apprehend persons, who have the ability to flee away from the country. Therefore, Look out Circulars are issued. It is an harmonious way out between a person’s fundamental right and interest of the society/state. But, in any case, it must be fair and reasonable. It should not be indiscriminate without any reason or basis.[14]

Look Out Circular should not be issued mechanically, but must only be issued when good reasons exist and when a person is avoiding warrants of arrest or avoiding trial in a criminal case.[15]

In Priya Parameswaran Pillai vs. Union of India and Ors. (12.03.2015 – DELHC) the question that came for consideration was whether the action of respondents in issuing LOC against petitioners with the object of preventing her from propagating and disseminating her views on developmental activities in the Mahan coal block area could be construed as a reasonable restriction under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

The court held in negative, stating that the actions of the respondents do not fall within the ambit of reasonable restriction, as articulated in Clause (2) of Article 19. Clause (2) of Article 19 protects a “law” which imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of rights conferred upon a citizen under Article 19(1)(a), in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency, morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. The action of the respondents in issuing a LOC vis-a-vis Ms Pillai could not be categorized as a reasonable restriction, as it was not a restriction which fell in any of the limitations articulated in clause (2) of Article 19.

It further held that the right to freedom of speech and expression includes the right to propagate one’s views, which cannot be stifled or impeded, except on grounds alluded to in clause (2) of Article 19, is a constitutional principle recognized by our courts in a long line of judgments. It is a right so well entrenched in our Constitution that, it cannot be dislodged, at this point in time of our nation’s history.

Therefore, having regard to the aforesaid discussion, the Court held that there was no basis for the respondents to issue a LOC qua the petitioner. That being so, the decision taken to detain the petitioner at the airport was held illegal being violative of Ms Pillai’s right under Article 21 and 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

The power to suspend, even temporarily, a passport of a citizen, the power to issue a LOC, the power to ‘off-load’ a passenger and prevent him or her from travelling are all extraordinary powers, vested in the criminal law enforcement agencies by the statutory law. These are powers that are required under the law, to be exercised with caution and only by the authorities who are empowered by law to do so and then again only for valid reasons.[16]

Jurisdiction of Court to entertain LOC

In Sumer Singh Salkan vs Asst. Director &Ors[17] one of the questions was that what is the role of the concerned Court when such a case is brought before it and under what circumstances, the subordinate courts can intervene? For which it was held that LOC is a coercive measure to make a person surrender to the investigating agency or Court of law. The subordinate courts’ jurisdiction in affirming or cancelling LOC is commensurate with the jurisdiction of cancellation of NBWs or affirming NBWs.

It is now well settled that any decision, be it executive or quasi-judicial, is amenable to the power of judicial review of the writ Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India when such decision has adverse civil consequences. A LOC, which is a coercive measure to make a person surrender and consequentially interferes with his right of personal liberty and free movement, certainly has adverse civil consequences. High Court, therefore, holds the power of judicial review under Article 226 of the Constitution, to interfere with Lookout Circular. [18]

Frequently Asked Questions about Look Out Circulars

What is Look out Circulars

Look out Circular is a communication received from an authorized government agency with reference to a person who is wanted by that agency for the fulfilment of a legal requirement, to secure the arrest of a person evading arrest and to nab a Proclaimed Offender so as to facilitate court proceedings by securing the presence of undertrials.

Who issues Look out Circulars?

Apart from the Government of India in the Ministry of Home Affairs, circulars are issued by various authorities for keeping a watch on arrival/departure of Indians and foreigners. These authorities include the Ministry of External Affairs, the Customs and Income Tax Departments, Directorate of Revenue intelligence, Central Bureau of Investigation, Interpol, Regional Passport Officers, Police authorities in various States, etc

What is the procedure for issuing look out circulars

The Investigating Officer shall make a written request for look out circular to the officer as notified by the circular of Ministry of Home Affairs, giving details & reasons for seeking LOC. The competent officer alone shall give directions for opening LOC by passing an order in this respect.

How to check Look out Circulars

The request for opening of LOC is required to be made to all immigration Check posts in the country. An LOC is valid for a period of one year. However, in case the originating agency wants to extend the validity beyond one year, it can ask for the extension before the expiry of the one year period. If no request is made for the extension of the LOC within the stipulated period of one year, the Immigration Officer concerned is authorized to suspend the LOC.


[1] https://corporate.cyrilamarchandblogs.com/2018/03/look-notices-questionable-exercise-power/

[2] Sumer Singh Salkan vs Asst. Director &Ors. ILR (2010) VI Delhi 206

[3] Supra, at para 5.

[4] Para 5, Crl. O.P. No. 16924 of 2017, Madras High Court, as also followed in Shriram Sankaran vs State on 19 January 2018 Madras High Court Crl.O.P.No.1648 of 2018

[5] WP.No.17873 of 2017 and Crl.OP.No.13774 of 2017 dated 31.08.2017

[6] Sanjay Rishi vs UOI – DelHC in WP(C) 5183/2018

[7] Vikram Sharma vs UOI 171 (2010) DLT 671

[8] https://mha.gov.in/PDF_Other/Lookoutcircular_27042017.pdf

[9] W.P.No.21305 of 2017, Madras High Court

[10] Supra, at note 7.

[11] E.V. Perumal Samy Reddy and Ors. vs. State and Ors. (31.10.2013 – MADHC)

[12] Supra, at note 2.

[13] AIR 1978 SC 597.

[14] Supra, at note 10.

[15] Supra, at note 9.

[16] Supra, at note 7.

[17] Supra, at note 2.

[18] Supra, at note 9.

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *