Read the judgement here
Date of decision: 25.09.2019
Court: Gauhati High Court
Judges: Justice Manojit Bhuyan and Justice Ajit Borthakur
Summary: The Gauhati High Court upheld the order of a Foreigners Tribunal that declared the Petitioner as a foreigner. The High Court considered the evidence placed on record by the Petitioner to be insufficient for proving her citizenship, stating that there were no errors apparent on the face of record that warranted interference with the Foreigners Tribunal order.
Facts: The Foreigners’ Tribunal, in its order dated 25.01.2019, declared the Petitioner to be a foreigner, having illegally entered into India (Assam) after 25.03.1971. In accordance with Section 9 of the Foreigners Act, 1946, the Petitioner presented 11 documents as evidence before the Foreigners’ Tribunal to prove that she was not a foreigner. Section 9 of the Foreigners Act places the burden of proof upon the person to prove that they are not a foreigner. Apart from the documents, the Petitioner also presented two witnesses: Mustafa Saiful Islam, the projected uncle of the Petitioner and Abdul Latif, the projected husband of the Petitioner.
First, the High Court found the documentary evidence to be insufficient to prove the Petitioner’s linkage to her projected parents. Although the names of the alleged parents appeared in the voter lists of 1965, 1970, 1997 and 2018 from different villages, no voter lists were produced that reflected the name of the Petitioner to show the relationship with her projected parents. The mother’s name in the voter’s lists had discrepancies, which is the reason that the court disbelieved the Petitioner’s claim that the projected mother was her mother. Further, the voter’s lists only had the names of the projected parents, and not of the Petitioner herself. Thus, the lists were considered to be inadequate to establish the Petitioner’s linkage to her parents.
Second, the HC did not accept the Jamabandi certificate on the ground that the same did not stand to be proved by the means of any related sale deed showing that the plot of land in question, which the Petitioner claimed to have inherited, had been purchased by her projected father on any date prior to the cut-off date of 25.03.1971. So, the Jamabandi document was considered to be not relevant to establish lineage to a predecessor prior to 25.03.1971. The handwritten Jamabandi was also not held to be relevant as it could not relate to the projected father or mother of the Petitioner.
Third, the HC also held that certain documents were inadmissible, namely certificates issued by the school and the village government, because the authors of the said certificates had not been examined to prove the contents thereof.
Fourth, it held that the oral evidence of the two witnesses could not be considered as admissible evidence since, “in a proceeding under the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964 the evidentiary value of oral testimony, without support of documentary evidence, is wholly insignificant. Oral testimony alone is no proof of citizenship” (page 5). The HC dismissed the oral testimony as it could not be a proof of citizenship without the support of documentary evidence. Thus, the HC upheld the Tribunal’s order, finding that the Petitioner had failed to discharge her burden of proof under Section 9.
The HC also did not review the Tribunal’s finding of facts since “the certiorari jurisdiction of the writ court being supervisory and not appellate jurisdiction, this Court would refrain from reviewing the findings of facts reached by the Tribunal” (page 5). In other words, it held that while issuing a writ of certiorari, courts do not review findings of facts, even if they are erroneous.
Holding: As per the HC, there was no error apparent on the face of record to warrant interference with the FT order. According to the Court, “No case is made out that the impugned opinion/order was rendered without affording opportunity of hearing or in violation of the principles of natural justice and/or that it suffers from illegality on any ground of having been passed by placing reliance on evidence which is legally impermissible in law and/or that the Tribunal refused to admit admissible evidence and/or that the findings finds no support by any evidence at all” (page 5).
The Petitioner filed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) before the Supreme Court, challenging the order passed by the Gauhati High Court. The SC allowed the Petitioner to withdraw the SLP and file a review petition before the Gauhati High Court. It also permitted her to approach the Supreme Court, again, in case the review petition fails.
Significance: The rejection of the oral and documentary evidence by the Gauhati HC was improper. The court failed to consider that the Petitioner had presented admissible and sufficient evidence to prove her linkage to one of her parents.
First, the Gauhati HC failed to appreciate some of the evidence on record. The Petitioner had presented documents to establish linkage with both her parents. As per the Court, the evidence had failed to establish the Petitioner’s linkage to her mother. However, the Court overlooked the fact that some of the evidence was adequate to establish a linkage to her father. Since her father’s name was present in the voter’s lists of 1965, 1970, the Petitioner was the descendant of a person living in Assam prior to 1971. Thus, establishing linkage to her father should have been sufficient to prove her citizenship under Section 3(b) of the Citizenship Act, 1955. While the Petitioner could not establish linkage with her mother since the latter’s name had discrepancies in the voter’s lists, there were no such discrepancies in her father’s name in the lists. The father’s name in the certified voter’s lists should have been considered as evidence to establish linkage.
Second, the HC was also incorrect in finding that the Petitioner’s husband’s oral testimony was inadmissible. The Petitioner’s husband orally testified to establish the linkage between the Petitioner and her father. As per Section 50 read with Section 59 of the Indian Evidence Act, oral evidence of a person who has special means of knowledge is admissible to prove the existence of a relationship between persons. In fact, courts have held that if the oral evidence is given by a person who has special means of knowledge about the relationship, such evidence is admissible. The husband, by virtue of his marriage to the Petitioner, satisfies this requirement and his testimony was therefore admissible. Thus, the oral testimony did not need to be supported by documentary evidence and was admissible ipso facto. Even then, the HC’s stance that it was not supported by documentary evidence was wrong since the oral testimony was also backed by the voter’s lists having the father’s name.
Table of Authorities:
- Jasmin Begum @Jesminara Begum v. UOI, W.P. (C) 3084/2019
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.