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Jasdeep Singh Malhotra , Hindustan Times
Jalandhar, January 17, 2013
Punjab NRI affairs department on Thursday announced that foreign nationals will no longer be eligible to contest the election to the president's post of the NRI Sabha, Punjab.
The decision came more than two years after the ministry of home affairs (MHA) had directed the state government to act on the "controversial" election of a British citizen, Kamaljit Singh Hayre, to the top post of the state government-run agency set up for the welfare of the NRI community.

The decision comes as a major setback to Hayre, who had already filed nomination papers and was in the fray for a third term. While Jasvir Singh Shergill, a rival of Hayre, had been opposing his candidature for two years, Hindustan Times had on December 24 highlighted the delay in the state government's decision on whether to allow foreigners to contest the elections. 

The decision was taken after subdivisional magistrate-cum-assistant returning officer Iqbal Singh Sandhu had forwarded the HT story to the state government, asking for clarification on the issue as the election process for the sabha was to start in January. "There is (an) urgent need to decide on the issue of allowing foreign nationals to contest in the coming polls for the president's post of the sabha. Else, it will bring bad repute to the government through media reports," Sandhu had said.

The NRI affairs department then sought legal opinion from the advocate general's office. Additional advocate general Rita Kohli, in a communiqué, said: "(Only) Indian citizens are eligible to become members of the sabha. A foreign national, who is neither born nor brought up in India and does not hold an Indian passport, cannot contest the elections."

The department accepted the legal advice on Thursday evening and faxed the decision to the SDM's office since the nomination papers would be scrutinised on Friday. "We will conduct the elections as per rules and regulations and in conformity to the Constitution of India," NRI affairs minister Bikram Singh Majithia told Hindustan Times over the phone.

The MHA, in a November 15, 2010, communiqué, had asked the Punjab chief secretary to take appropriate action on Hayre's election as president and inform the central government about the steps taken.

The chief secretary forwarded the letter to the commissioner of NRI affairs, who in turn asked then sabha chairman and Jalandhar divisional commissioner SR Ladhar to decide on the issue. Ladhar reportedly sent back the file to the state government, saying that the NRI affairs department was competent to decide on the issue. The state government, however, again sent the file to the sabha chairman with a "clear" direction to take the final call.

The decision was further delayed after Ladhar was posted as the Patiala divisional commissioner in July 2011. Though a new officer took charge, the issued gathered dust. Interestingly, MHA under secretary SN Garg, in a letter to Punjab chief secretary, had said that overseas citizenship of India (OCI) card-holders were ineligible to contest any elections or hold any constitutional post.

It was Jagvir Singh Shergill, a US citizen, who had complained to the home secretary, alleging that Hayre, a British citizen and OCI card-holder, had been elected as the sabha president in violation of the Indian Citizen Act. Shergill had been denied permission to contest the sabha polls on similar grounds.