Smt. Sefali Rani Das v. Union of India, WP(C)/206/2018

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Date of the decision: 20.07.2021

Court: Gauhati High Court

Judges: Justice N. Kotiswar Singh and Justice Soumitra Saikia

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 citizenship should be decided on merit, and not by default.  

Facts: The petitioner had appeared before the Foreigners Tribunal 6th, Silchar, after notice was served, filing her written statement along with certain documents. However, she did not get proper legal advice and later failed to appear before the Tribunal on several occasions. As a result, the Tribunal passed an ex parte order against her on 19.9.2017, declaring her a foreigner. Accordingly, the present writ petition was filed, the petitioner pleading that she be permitted to approach the Tribunal again to prove her case as an Indian citizen. 

Holding: The petitioner argued that there was no wilful negligence or disregard on her part about the proceeding as she had duly appeared and filed her written statement. The Gauhati High Court granted the relief, remanding the matter to the Foreigners’ Tribunal for reconsideration. The Court, in its order, stated that “citizenship being a very important right of a person should ordinarily be decided on merit rather than by way of default as has happened in the present case” (paragraph 5).

Significance: The case deals with an ex parte order depriving an individual of their citizenship. It is significant because it reaffirms the importance of citizenship as a right, and that it cannot be taken away without proper consideration of its merits. While the Gauhati HC has also stated in previous orders that citizenship cases should not be determined on an ex parte basis, these orders are decided on a case-to-case basis, and it is unclear whether they indicate a general prohibition on ex parte orders. 

More than 60% of cases are decided ex-parte by Foreigners’ Tribunals. A large number of these orders are because the persons do not receive notices, or stop attending the proceedings midway through. Ex parte orders often affect vulnerable and marginalised persons such as wage labourers, who cannot appear before the Tribunals either due to lack of sound legal advice or because they stand to lose a day’s wage. While Foreigners’ Tribunals have the power to summon and enforce attendance of persons, there currently exists no mechanism to ensure that persons are able to attend hearings, which points to larger structural issues in the functioning of the Tribunals. Although laws like the Legal Services Authorities Act provide free legal aid for marginalised and disadvantaged persons, experiences show that such laws are ineffective in practice, making it difficult for the poor and marginalised to access legal aid.  

Table of Authorities:

Rahima Khatun v. Union of India WP(C)/8284/2019.   

Resources: 

Nupur Thapliyal,Gauhati HC Sets Aside Ex Parte Order Declaring Woman As Foreigner, LiveLaw, 29 July 2021.

Sabrang India, Citizenship Should Ordinarily be Decided on Merit Rather Than by Default: Gauhati HC, Newsclick, 30 July 2021.

Challenging Ex Parte Orders on the Ground of Non-Availability of Legal Aid, Parichay Blog, 9 November 2020.

The Search for Foreigners in Assam – An Analysis of Cases Before a Foreigners’ Tribunal and the High Court, Parichay Blog, 23 June 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.

Akhlima @Aklima Begum v. Union of India, I.A.(Civil)/1335/2021

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Date of decision: 03.09.21 

Court: Gauhati High Court

Judges: Justice N. Kotiswar Singh and Justice Soumitra Saikia 

Summary: The Petitioner, a declared foreigner, was granted bail by the Gauhati High Court in a previous order. In response to the risk posed by overcrowded jails in the COVID-19 pandemic, the High Court extended the bail until the disposal of the writ petition which challenged the Foreigners’ Tribunal’s order.

Facts: The Petitioner, Akhlima @Aklima Begum was declared as a “foreigner” in an order passed  by the Foreigners’ Tribunal on 24.06.20. Pursuant to this order, the Petitioner was in detention. The Petitioner filed a writ petition challenging the impugned order. In the meanwhile, the Petitioner filed an interlocutory application seeking an extension of the three-month bail granted by the Gauhati High Court vide order dated 02.06.21. The bail was granted on the sole ground that decongestion of jails and detention centres is a must during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Holding: The Petitioner requested for the bail to be extended for a further period of time or till the disposal of the case in view of the overcrowded jail conditions that posed a health risk in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Gauhati High Court granted the relief, stating that “considering that the present COVID-19 pandemic situation and also since the Tribunal records have also been requisitioned and the matter can be heard on a short date, the applicant can be allowed to remain on bail till disposal of the writ petition” (paragraph 7). 

Significance: This decision indicates that detenues may be released on bail on the ground of COVID-19 for a limited period of time, and the same may be extended as long as the pandemic persists. In a move forward from the previous decisions of this court in Gauhati High Court v. Union of India and Samsul Hoque v. Union of India, the bail in the instant case was granted irrespective of the number of years served in detention. This is a positive development. Similarly, the court must not insist on the two year detention period before granting bail in a case where a person’s status as a “declared foreigner” is upheld by the High Court. This would be coherent with the ground for the bail, i.e. COVID-19 which applies to all detenues and is likely to persist for the foreseeable future. 

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 Arushi Gupta and Dewangi Sharma.

Samsul Hoque v. Union of India, WP(C)/6056/2019

Read the judgment here

Date of the decision: 10.05.21

Court: Gauhati High Court

Judges: Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia and Justice Manash Ranjan Pathak 

Summary: In response to the second wave, the Gauhati High Court modified its previous order and directed the authorities to release ‘foreigner’ detenues who have completed two years of detention on a personal bond of Rs.5000 with a like amount of one surety instead of two. 

Facts: The Petitioner, a person declared as a ‘foreigner’ by the Foreigners’ Tribunal had been in detention since 2019 for a period of two years. The Petitioner had filed a writ petition against the order. In the meanwhile, the Petitioner filed for bail as he was completing two years in detention. This bail was filed in consideration of the law laid down by the Supreme Court of India, which had been followed by the Gauhati High Court, which stated that a detenu was liable to be released after completing two years in detention on his furnishing personal bond of Rs.5,000/- and like amount of two sureties.

Holding: The Court held that given the exceptional circumstances of the second wave, a detenu is to be released after completing two years in detention on the fulfilment of certain conditions, like a personal bond of Rs.5000 with a like amount of one surety. It modified its earlier order, passed during the first wave as per the Supreme Court order, directing a detenu to be released with two sureties of Rs.5000. 

Significance: This decision indicates that detenues who have completed two years in detention must be released on bail after furnishing a personal bond of Rs.5000 with a like amount of one surety. A reduction from two sureties to one surety is a positive development considering that the process of citizenship disproportionately excludes the poor and the marginalised who may not have the means to provide a surety. However, the order, like the original, falters as it bases the release on the amount of time served even though the same lacks nexus with the likelihood of contracting COVID-19. Further, the release is subject to other onerous conditions, like reporting weekly to the nearest police station with a border branch. This is a cumbersome condition since it has to be complied with irrespective of a lockdown or the distance between a person’s place of residence and the station. In fact, Two Circles reported that making these weekly visits imposes a financial and emotional burden on the former detainees. This is exacerbated as most of these former detainees are daily labourers, making these weekly visits a financial burden as work is difficult to find, especially when migration to another state to work to earn money is not possible. 

Table of Authorities:

  1. In Re: Contagion of Covid 19 Virus In Prisons, Writ Petition (C) (Suo Moto) No.1/2020
  2. Gauhati High Court v. Union of India & Ors., Writ Petition (C) (Suo Moto) No.1/2020

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 Arushi Gupta and Eeshan Sonak.

Mangla Das v. Union of India, Review.Pet./73/2021

Read the judgment here.

Date of the decision: 04.09.21

Court: Gauhati High Court

Judges: Justice Achintya Malla Bujor Barua and Justice Prasanta Kumar Deka 

Summary: The Gauhati High Court granted the Petitioner, a person declared as a “foreigner”, the liberty to seek citizenship under the Gazette notification of 2015 on the ground that he was a persecuted minority as he belonged to the Hindu faith and migrated from Bangladesh. 

Facts: The Petitioner filed a review petition before the Gauhati High Court to request for the review of an order in which the High Court had dismissed a writ petition challenging an order of the Foreigners’ Tribunal declaring the Petitioner to be a foreigner. The High Court had dismissed the writ petition on the ground that the Petitioner failed to establish his lineage with his claimed father and thus there was no error apparent in the Foreigner Tribunal’s order. Subsequently, the Petitioner approached the Supreme Court, asking it to grant relief to file a review petition before the Gauhati High Court. The Petitioner argued that there existed two documents that were relevant to the issue but could not be produced before the High Court in spite of due diligence. The first document was a 2015 Gazette Notification issued by the Government of India under Section 3 of the Foreigners Act and the second was the draft NRC in which the name of the petitioner appeared. The Supreme Court did not interfere with the judgment of the Gauhati High Court but gave the liberty to the Petitioner to institute a review petition before the same. Accordingly, this review petition was filed. 

Holding: The Petitioner argued that he had a right to be granted Indian citizenship under the Gazette Notification passed in 2015. The notification dated 07.09.15. stated that the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 would not apply to the minority communities in Bangladesh and Pakistan, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who “were compelled to seek shelter in India due to religious persecution or fear of religious persecution” and entered into India on or before 31st December 2014 without valid documents or with expired documents. Based on this, the Petitioner argued that “there exists a right in favour of the petitioner to be granted Indian Citizenship on the ground that the petitioner belongs to the Hindu religious faith and was required to leave his original Country of Bangladesh because of fear of religious persecution” (paragraph 5). The High Court granted liberty to the petitioner to approach the appropriate authority to file an application raising the plea that he is entitled the grant of Indian Citizenship. It also granted interim protection of two months’ time to the petitioner to file such application, and directed that the authority shall pass a reasoned order without being influenced by the conclusions and findings arrived at by the HC in its previous decision dismissing the writ petition. 

Significance: The case deals with a declared foreigner approaching the Gauhati High Court on a review petition seeking to apply for citizenship. It is significant because this is the first instance we know of where a person who is a declared foreigner by the Foreigners Tribunal is seeking to apply for citizenship because of religious persecution. While the order does not refer to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, it is only under the CAA, 2019 that persons covered under the 2015 Gazette Notification are exempted from the definition of “illegal migrant” and hence eligible to apply for citizenship. This indicates that the CAA 2019 is operational and can be invoked as a path back into citizenship by non-Muslim declared foreigners in Assam. 

Refer to a more detailed note on the CAA 2019 and its continuing implementation here.


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 Arushi Gupta and Eeshan Sonak.