‘Citizenship an important right’: Gauhati HC cancels tribunal’s foreigner order
GUWAHATI: The Gauhati high court has set aside an ex-parte order by a foreigner’s tribunal (FT) declaring a resident of Morigaon district as a foreigner, holding that citizenship was an important right of a person, which the tribunal should have decided on merits.
The ruling by the division bench of justices Manish Choudhury and N Kotiswar Singh came on a petition by Asor Uddin, a resident of Moirabari in Morigaon district 70 km from state capital Dispur, against the tribunal’s verdict.
The Morigaon tribunal is among Assam’s 100 such quasi-judicial bodies that are mandated to adjudicate on the citizenship of those people who have been marked as suspected foreigners by the border police or listed as doubtful voters (D-voters) in electoral rolls.
Asor Uddin pleaded that the Morigaon FT declared him a foreigner under the Foreigners Act 1946 because he missed hearings at the tribunal due to a communication gap and took time to produce evidence to establish his citizenship.
“Citizenship, being an important right of a person, ordinarily, should be decided on the basis of merit by considering the material evidence that may be adduced by the person concerned and not by way of default as happened in the present case,” the bench said in its judgment on September 9. HT reviewed the verdict on Monday.
The judges gave the petitioner time till November 8 to appear before the foreigners’ tribunal to establish his citizenship. The high court also ordered him to submit a bail bond of ₹5,000 and a surety of the same amount since his citizenship “has come under a cloud”. He was also told to pay ₹5,000 as costs to the tribunal.
The high court said if Asor Uddin failed to pay up or appear before the foreigners’ tribunal on or before November 8, the order set aside by the high court will be revived and “law will take its own course”.
In Assam, as per the Assam Accord of 1985, anyone who has been staying in the state prior to March 24, 1971, or can establish lineage to people residing on or before that date is considered as Indian citizen—a requirement also accepted for inclusion in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) updated in 2019.
Names of around 1.9 million people who failed to prove their or their ancestor’s residency in Assam on that date and those who were declared foreigners by foreigners’ tribunals (as well their relatives) have been excluded from the NRC.
In his petition, Asor Uddin said he took time to collect the documents required to prove his citizenship and his lawyer failed to inform him about the dates fixed by the tribunal.
Asor Uddin also stressed that he was incorrectly classified as a D-voter since he worked in Kerala to earn his livelihood. The petitioner said he did appear before the tribunal on February 12, 2010 and did not intend to evade its proceedings.
A Verma, special counsel appearing for the tribunal, insisted that the tribunal did not have any option but to go ahead with the proceedings due to his continued absence.
“There were sufficient reasons for the petitioner for not being able to appear before the FT to enable the tribunal to consider his claim on merit and accordingly, we are inclined to afford another opportunity to the petitioner to appear before the FT to prove he is an Indian, not a foreigner,” the high court ruled setting aside the FT’s order.
The court also directed the police to collect fingerprints and biometrics of the petitioner. It also asked the petitioner not to leave the jurisdiction of the Morigaon district without permission from the superintendent of police.