Kabir Uddin v. Union of India, WP(C)/7901/2019

Read the judgment here

Date: 02.09.2021

Court: The Gauhati High Court

Justices: Justice N. Kotiswar Singh and Justice Soumitra Saikia

Summary: The Petitioner had been declared a foreigner through an ex parte order of the Foreigners’ Tribunal. The Gauhati High Court set aside the Tribunal’s order due to the improper procedure followed and remanded the matter to the Foreigner’s Tribunal for fresh consideration.

Facts: The Petitioner had shifted from his village many years ago in search of work and had not been in the State. When his name did not appear in the National Register for Citizens, he came to know from the NRC Seva Kendra in Doboka (Hojai District) that the Foreigners’ Tribunal had declared him a foreigner. He had not been served any notice and the process server had pasted the notice in a public place in the village where it was seen by the Gaonburah and others, none of whom had knowledge of the Petitioner.

Holding: The Court held that Order 3(5) of the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964 does not permit simply pasting notices in public places as a method of serving notice. While the procedure was unclear on what must be done when a proceedee was not found in the house or village, the Court held that the server ought to submit a report in accordance with Order 3(5)(f) and the Tribunal ought to take necessary steps in accordance with Order 3(5)(j). It was held that the notice could not be deemed to have been served and the ex parte proceeding could not continue. The Tribunal’s order was set aside and the Petitioner was directed to appear before the Tribunal for a fresh hearing of the matter. However, since the nationality of the Petitioner was still uncertain, the Court directed that he would remain on bail upon furnishing a bail bond for Rs. 5,000 with one local surety of the like amount, following the Court’s previous decision. The Court also noted that the Petitioner’s failure to appear before the Tribunal would result in the High Court order being vacated and the revival of the Tribunal order, with the Petitioner being liable for detention and deportation.

Significance: This decision indicates that in the instance that a proceedee’s whereabouts are unknown and their residence is not traceable, the server must report the same to the Tribunal and the onus falls on the Tribunal to take the further steps necessary and that simply pasting notices in public places would not amount to serving notice to the person. In so far as the bail conditions are concerned, the requirement for a local surety within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal in question seems especially problematic in such situations where no one in the village knew the Petitioner and vice versa. Moreover, when the Court speaks about the possibility of the Petitioner’s non-appearance and directs that the High Court order will stand vacated, it is not clear whether the holding regarding pasting of notices in public areas will also stand vacated or not.

Resources:

  1. Parichay Team, Challenging Ex Parte Orders – Special Circumstances, Parichay Blog, 2 November 2020.
  2. Aman Wadud, Judiciary must re-examine how it has viewed citizenship question in Assam, Indian Express, 23 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 Aayushmaan Thakur. 

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

Read the judgement here

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.