In a significant judgement, the division bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court has held that the Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) should be accorded the same status as provided to NRIs for representing India in international sports events.
The Bench, comprising Chief Justice Mukul Mudgal and Justice Jasbir Singh, also directed the Union Sports Ministry to allow shotgun shooter Sohrab Singh Gill, an OCI, to represent the country in international events as part of the Indian contingent.
The petition stated that Sohrab Gill, son of Punjab Director-General of Police, PS Gill, was born on August 19, 1987 in the United States and had to return to India at the age of one. Thereafter, he got his education in Chandigarh and is presently a third-year student of Law in Panjab University.
Gill, who was granted the OCI status on April 4, 2007, has represented India in junior world events and has also won two medals at the Asian Championships in Kuwait in 2007.
However, Gill was barred, along with other OCI and People of Indian Origin (PIO) sportspersons, from representing the country in international events, following orders issued by the Sports Ministry on December 26, 2008. The new policy stated that only players who were Indian citizens could represent the country. As Gill was not an Indian citizen, and did not hold the country’s passport, he could not don India colours.
Punjab Advocate-General, HS Mattewal, who argued for Gill referred to various sections of the Citizenship Act, 1955 and subsequent notifications. He stated that a notification issued on April 11, 2005, had granted OCIs parity with NRIs in respect of all facilities — economic, financial, educational, etc — and since the petitioner was a student and sports was part of education, he was entitled to the same rights as NRIs.
The Assistant Solicitor General of India, Anmol Rattan Sidhu, however, argued that the policy issued on December 26, 2008, did not state that OCIs could represent India, as they were not citizens of the country. But an NRI could represent India.
Sidhu added that Gill did not hold an Indian passport, was not a citizen of India, and, therefore, could not represent the country as per the policy.
The Bench, however, held that since an NRI was permitted to participate in sports events for India — and facilities available to NRIs had also been granted to OCIs by the April 2005 notification — Gill could not be denied the right to participate.