Read the judgment here.
Date of decision: 09.09.2021
Court: Gauhati High Court
Justices: Justice N. Kotiswar Singh and Justice Manish Choudhary
Summary: The Gauhati High Court set aside an ex-parte order by the Foreigners’ Tribunal which declared the petitioner a “foreigner” due to his repeated non-appearance before the tribunal. The court reasoned that there were sufficient reasons which made the petitioner unable to present himself before the tribunal.
Facts: The petitioner was declared a foreigner by the Foreigner’s Tribunal under Section 2(a) of the Foreigners’ Act, 1946, via an ex-parte order. The petitioner was a poor person and had to travel to Kerala for livelihood. Due to this, he had difficulty readily gathering documents containing his father and grandfather’s names, communicating with his counsel, appearing before the tribunal and filing a written statement.
Due to his repeated non-appearance and non-filing of written statement, the tribunal passed an ex-parte order, declaring him a foreigner who had entered India from Bangladesh after 25.03.1971. The petitioner approached the Gauhati High Court to set aside the ex-parte order on the grounds mentioned above. The counsel for the Foreigners’ Tribunal argued that in the absence of the procedee, the law allows passing an ex-parte order. Since the petitioner had failed to file a written statement despite several dates given by the tribunal, the order was valid and legal.
Holding: The court set aside the ex-parte order and directed the petitioner to appear before the Foreigners’ Tribunal for fresh proceedings. It was reasoned that “citizenship, being an important right of a person, ordinarily, should be decided on the basis of merit by considering the material evidences that may be adduced by the person concerned and not by way of default as happened in the present case.” [Para 7]
The court deemed the reasons for the petitioner’s non-appearance sufficient to be considered by the Tribunal on merits. The court recused itself from deciding on the question of whether the petitioner is a foreigner or not, and instead remanded it to the Foreigners’ Tribunal for reconsideration. The petitioner was also directed to be released on a bail bond of Rs. 5000/- and to submit costs worth Rs. 5000/- to the tribunal.
Significance: The High Court setting aside the ex-parte order is appreciable, considering the history of the large number of ex-parte orders being pronounced by the Foreigners’ Tribunal. Such orders are common since in many cases, procedees do not receive notice, or discontinue attending the proceedings due to poverty and/or the complexity of the proceedings. In a previous case, a similar ex-parte order was passed by the tribunal where the proceedee’s child appeared before the tribunal without her knowledge, and then proceeded to remain absent for subsequent hearings.
At the same time, however, the judgment problematizes the exact situations in which cases can be remanded back to the Foreigners’ Tribunal by the High Court. Unlike the above-mentioned case, the court has not found any fault by the tribunal in serving notice or hearing a representative without a thorough checking. The reasoning relied upon by the High Court was that the case is a matter of citizenship, which is the case with all the matters heard by the Foreigners’ Tribunal, and that the petitioners’ reasons for non-appearance seemed sufficient to the court. It remains unclear what is the exact parameter that a court can deem reasons “sufficient” to set aside such an ex-parte order and remand the case back to the tribunal.
- Abhishek Saha, Explained: How do Foreigners’ Tribunals work?, Indian Express, 9 July 2019.
- Gau HC | [Assam NRC] Citizenship is one of the most important rights of a person which shall not be taken away by an ex-parte order; HC remands the matter to the Tribunal for reconsideration, The SCC Online Blog, 22 April 2021.
- Shrutika Pandey, Citizenship Is An Essential Right: Gauhati High Court Sets Aside Ex-Parte Order Declaring Man As Foreigner, LiveLaw, 13 September 2021.
- Challenging Ex Parte Orders on the Ground of Improper Service of Notice, Parichay – The Blog, 11 February 2021.
- Aman Wadud, Judiciary must re-examine how it has viewed citizenship question in Assam, Indian Express, 24 September 2021.
This case note is part of Parichay’s ongoing project to study, track, and publish key propositions and latest developments in citizenship law and adjudication in India.This note was prepared by Farhan Zia.