Mamtaz Begum v. Union of India, WP(C)/7305/2021

Read the judgement here

Date of decision: 03.01.2022

Court: Gauhati High Court

Judges: Justice N. Kotiswar Singh

Summary: The petitioner was declared as a foreigner by an ex parte order of the Foreigners’ Tribunal. The Gauhati High Court remanded the matter to the Foreigners’ Tribunal for reconsideration on the ground that the Tribunal had not actually arrived at a specific finding as to when the petitioner had entered India. 

Facts: The petitioner had failed to appear before the Foreigners Tribunal No. 6, Barpeta, on two occasions. The Tribunal passed an ex parte order against her on 11.03.2019, declaring her a foreigner on the ground that she had entered India illegally on or before 25.03.1971. 

Holding: The petitioner argued that she could not appear before the Tribunal as she had been preparing for the case by gathering necessary evidence. The Standing Counsel for the Foreigners Tribunal argued that the petitioner may be allowed to appear before the Tribunal again, provided that costs were imposed upon her for non-appearance. The Gauhati High Court remanded the matter to the Foreigners’ Tribunal, asking it to deliver a specific finding with respect to the status of the petitioner. It found that the “finding arrived at by the learned Tribunal is ambiguous as there is no specific finding as to whether the petitioner had entered India (Assam) illegally before 25.03.1971 or after 25.03.1971 with different consequences.” (paragraph 6)

Significance: The Gauhati High Court correctly noted that “if a person is declared to have entered illegally India (Assam) before 25.03.1971, certain benefits would accrue to him or her as provided under Section 6A(3) of the Citizenship Act, 1955.” (paragraph 6) According to Section 6A, persons who settled in Assam between 1st January 1966 and the cut-off date would have to register themselves according to the rules laid down by the Central Government and would enjoy all other rights except the right to vote for a ten-year period. The Foreigners Tribunal, in finding that the petitioner had entered the country illegally on or before 25.03.1971, neglected to note this aspect.

This lapse on the part of the Tribunal, and its attempt to pass it off as a typographical error, is part of larger, systemic issues that plague Foreigners Tribunals in Assam. These Tribunals are quasi-judicial bodies, often staffed by untrained persons with no knowledge of law, following opaque procedures that ultimately harm petitioners. This case is illustrative of the improper application of the law by the Tribunal in determining the question of citizenship. 

Resources:

  1. Designed To Exclude: How India’s Courts Are Allowing Foreigner Tribunals To Render People Stateless In Assam, Amnesty International India, 2019. 
  2. Talha Abdul Rahman, Identifying the Outsider: An Assessment of Foreigner Tribunals in the Indian State of Assam, Statelessness & Citizenship Review, 2020. 

Section 6A and Assam, Parichay Blog, 17 July 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 Radhika Dharnia.

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