April 20, 2021 10:08:53 am
The Gauhati high court has held that any questions about a person’s citizenship should be decided upon after hearing the person concerned instead of passing an ex-parte order.
Citizenship is one of the most important rights of a person, the court observed while setting aside an ex-parte order by a Foreigners Tribunal.
“By virtue of citizenship, one becomes a member of a sovereign country and becomes entitled to various rights and privileges granted by law in the country and, as such, if any question arises about the citizenship of a person, in our opinion, the same should be adjudicated as far as possible on the basis of merit and on hearing the person concerned,” the order by a division bench comprising Justices N Kotiswar Singh and Soumitra Saikia, dated April 8, said.
The HC was hearing a petition filed by Rahima Khatun, belonging to Assam’s Dhubri district, who was declared a ‘foreigner’ by an ex-parte order in 2016.
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“Though notice was served, according to the petitioner, upon receipt of notice from the Foreigners Tribunal, the son of the petitioner appeared on her behalf without her knowledge. But, unfortunately, the petitioner’s son neglected to appear before the Tribunal on various dates fixed by the Tribunal resulting in the passing of the ex-parte order,” the order noted.
The 100 Foreigners’ Tribunals (FTs) in Assam are quasi-judicial bodies that give their opinion on whether a person is an ‘illegal foreigner’ or not as per the Foreigners Act, 1946. FTs hear cases of those who are referred by the border wing of the state police and those who are marked Doubtful Voters by local election authorities.
Till July 31 last year, FTs have received 4.34 lakh cases, of which over 2 lakh have been disposed. The over 19 lakh people excluded in the final NRC published in August 2019 will get a chance to appeal against their exclusions at the state’s FTs.
Section 9 of the Foreigners Act says that the onus of proving that a person is not a foreigner lies on the person. Thus, the ‘accused’ has to prove he is an Indian and when he/she does not appear the Member can proceed ex parte.
The HC, while asking the Tribunal to reconsider its opinion on Khatun’s citizenship, has asked her to appear before the Tribunal on or before May 5.
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