The Gauhati High Court has set aside an order by a Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) in Jorhat district of eastern Assam, calling it a “perversity”. The court has asked the Tribunal for a fresh opinion and allowed bail application by the alleged ‘foreigner’.
The order comes after the HC last month upheld FT orders declaring two women from extremely poor families as ‘foreigners’, ruling that multiple documentary evidence they had submitted were not enough to establish their Indian citizenship.
Mohammad Iddrish Ali, who has been in a detention camp for ‘illegal foreigners’ in Jorhat since September 21 last year, was declared a ‘foreigner’ earlier that month. The FT had disregarded a copy of the voters’ lists of 1985 and 1989 bearing Ali’s name – the court observed that if Ali was born in 1953, as per his statement, then he should have been registered as a voter by 1974.
HC differentiated between court and tribunal
The HC order said that “the strict rules of evidence are not applicable in a tribunal”. It said, “Nothing is required to be proved beyond all reasonable doubt.” To explain the difference, the HC quoted a Supreme Court order which gave three points of difference, one of which states: While courts are governed by detailed statutory procedural rules, in particular the Code of Civil Procedure and Evidence Act, Tribunals generally regulate their own procedure applying provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure only, where required, and without being restricted by the strict rules of Evidence Act.
But his name was not in the 1975 voters’ list, it pointed out.
Ali had submitted to the FT 11 documents, including voters’ lists of 1965 and 1970 bearing names of his father and uncle, to prove he is an Indian.
“We have no doubt that the Tribunal has committed an error while appreciating Exhibits 6 & 7 [voters’ lists of 1985 and ‘89],” Justices Manojit Bhuyan and P J Saikia said in their February 27 order.
Ali’s details cited in the HC order indicate that his family originally resided in a village under Dhing police station of Nagaon district and moved to a village in Golaghat district in 1983 after a flood inundated their village.
The court said, “He was born and brought up in that village [in Nagaon]. His grandfather’s name appeared in the Voter List of 1965. The petitioner claimed that since 1965 [and] till 1989, his family used to cast their votes at Moiradhwaj village. But when he shifted to No. 2, Kairigaon Village, his name was displayed in the Voter List of Golaghat District as ‘D’ voter. So, since 1997, he has been shown in the Voter List as ‘D’ voter.”
D-Voter is a category unique to Assam, introduced in 1997 to mark people unable to prove their citizenship during verification. There are widespread allegations amongst minority communities in the state that this process was marked by arbitrariness.
It has been observed in Assam that migrants who relocate due to different reasons often find themselves under investigation as suspected foreigners in the new location.
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