Can an Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) represent India in international sporting events?
The controversial issue reached the Supreme Court on Thursday with the Centre challenging a Punjab and Haryana High Court verdict allowing US-born shooter Sorab Singh Gill to represent India in international sports events. The Solicitor General, Gopal Subramanium, mentioned the Centre's petition for urgent hearing before a bench headed by the Chief Justice of India, KG Balakrishnan, which decided to take it up on April 19.
However, the bench commented, “If you want to represent India, why don't you give up your US citizenship?" There was no provision for dual citizenship in India, it said, adding only an Indian citizen could represent the country in international competitions.
Gill, son of Punjab Director-General of Police PS Gill, was born on August 19, 1987 in the US and returned to India at the age of one. A third-year student of Law in the Punjab University, Gill was granted the OCI status on April 4, 2007. He has represented India in junior world events and won two medals at the Asian Championships in Kuwait in 2007.
However, he was barred, along with other OCI and People of Indian Origin (PIO) sportspersons, from representing India in international events, following orders issued by the Sports Ministry in December 2008.
The government had withdrawn the whole Indian skeet team from the Asian Clay Shooting Championship in Bangkok, as Sorab was part of it. Subramanium told the court that the issue involved government policy and raised an important question of law regarding the scope and ambit of the rights of OCIs.
He said the HC was wrong in allowing a person who is not an Indian citizen to represent India in international sports events, as it was contrary to the government policy notified on December 26, 2008 and March 12, 2009. The Centre said the HC was wrong in equating OCIs with NRIs because the latter were Indian passport holders living abroad. It also pointed out that he opted to continue as US citizen even after becoming a major in 2005.
On behalf of Gill, senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi said the shooter had been a part of the Indian contingent in the past but the government policy was coming in the way of his future participation in international events from the Indian side.
Rohtagi told the court that his client would not press the contempt petition against Sports Ministry officials on Friday in the High Court for not implementing the March 12 order.