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Mere relinquishment of foreign Citizenship, possession of Aadhaar, PAN, Voter ID not proof of Indian Citizenship
Kiran Gupta Vs State Election Commision and Ors
Civil Writ Jurisdiction Case No.19109 of 2019
About/from the judgment:
"The Citizenship Act does not provide for a scenario where a person residing in India, upon relinquishing her/his original Citizenship is automatically considered to be a citizen of India", the Court observed.
The High Court ruled that under the existing Constitutional and legal regime, merely relinquishing foreign citizenship, even if coupled with long residency in India, would not automatically confer on a person Indian Citizenship.
Relying on various caselaws, the court also reiterated that documents such as Voter ID, PAN Card and Aadhaar also do not constitute proof of citizenship.
"... it is not that anyone or everyone can, as a matter of right, claim Citizenship of India. Power and discretion of conferring citizenship vests with the Central Government which, of course, has to be exercised as per settled principles of Law."
The Court was dealing with a plea by a woman who was born a Nepali citizen, whose election as the Mukhiya of a Gram Panchayat was challenged on the ground that she was not an Indian citizen.
In 2003, she had married an Indian citizen. In 2016, she formally relinquished her Nepali citizenship. However, she never formally made an application for citizenship under the Indian Citizenship Act, 1955.
The Court noted that under the Indian Citizenship Act, a foreigner who marries an Indian citizen has the option of applying for an Indian citizenship, provided that s/he has been residing in India for at least the preceding seven years.
If such an application is made, the Central Government has the discretion to grant Indian Citizenship in accordance with the law. The Court added that unless such an application is decided "the mere filing of an application does not confer any right of Citizenship" either.
Given that the woman had never made any application to become an Indian citizen, the High Court affirmed the State Election Commission's decision to set aside her election to the Panchayat on the ground that she was disqualified for not being an Indian citizen.
Pertinently, the Court also rejected submissions that the woman's Indian citizenship can be guaged from her Voter ID, PAN card, Aadhaar and other documents.
Key findings of the Court
1. Mere relinquishment of original Citizenship cannot be perceived as an intent of seeking Indian Citizenship:
The Court held,
"The Citizenship Act does not provide for a scenario where a person residing in India, upon relinquishing her/his original Citizenship is automatically considered to be a citizen of India. Possibility of a person, though not the appellant, migrating to a third country cannot be ruled out. As such, continuous and uninterrupted stay in India cannot be a factor determining, in anticipation, of a person choosing to exercise right seeking Citizenship under the Citizenship Act."
2. Voted Identity Card not proof of Indian citizenship
The Court noted that the Representation of the People Act 1950 shows that non-citizens are disqualified from entering their names in the voter list. Further, Section 22 also contemplates correction of defective entries in the voter's list. The Act does not provide that name in the electoral roll (voter list) would be proof of Citizenship of India, the Bench said. It also reasoned that there is no need to submit any evidence of citizenship for obtaining a voter's card. As such, the Court ruled,
"... voter identity card and name on voter list would not be proof of Citizenship. Mere registration of a person’s name in the voter list, ipso facto, does not confer Citizenship."
3. Possession of PAN Card does not confer Citizenship rights
The High Court recounted that in Binoy Viswam v. Union of India & Ors, the Supreme Court did not hold that possession of such a card would confer any right of Citizenship.
The purpose of the PAN card is to facilitate the payment of taxes to the Indian State, which foreigners may also be required to pay, the Bench added. Further, relying on a plethora of Gauhati High Court rulings, the Patna High Court held that a "Pan Card not to be a piece of valid evidence establishing persons citizenship of India."
4. Aadhaar card not proof of Citizenship either
The Court pointed out that the only eligibility criteria for obtaining an Aadhaar Card is residency in India for a period of 182 days or more, not citizenship. Moreover, Section 9 of the Aadhaar Act, 2016 also states that an Aadhaar number or authentication thereof shall not by itself confer any right of or be proof of Citizenship or domicile of the Aadhaar number holder.
Therefore, the Patna High Court ruled that, "the appellant cannot rely on her PAN card and Aadhaar Card as proof of Indian Citizenship."
5. Name in sale records for property in India not proof of citizenship
In this regard, the Patna High Court observed,
"The Registration Act, 1908, which provides for mutation of names in the case of transfer of property, only requires that document by which property is transferred be registered (Section 17) along with affixing of passport size photo thumbprint on the document (Section 32A). Therefore mutating name in the register is only proof of ownership of property and is silent on the status of Citizenship of person to whom property is transferred."
6. In addition to the above, the Court has also added that having a bank account in India would also not be sufficient to prove Indian citizenship as citizenship is not a criterion for having a bank account in India.
As such, the Bench concluded that the woman-appellant cannot claim Indian citizenship to shielf herself from being disqualified to hold the position of the Gram Panchayat Mukhiya, adding that,
"The appellant could not adduce any additional evidence to establish her claim to Indian Citizenship arising from these documents. Voter ID cards are not incontrovertible evidence of Indian Citizenship- presumption attached to the issuance of the voter ID card may be challenged by a complaint that states material facts under Section 136 of the Panchayat Act."
The Court, however, struck a note of empathy over the fact that the appellant's citizenship status was now left in limbo, given that she had surrendered her Nepali citizenship and not obtained Indian citizenship.
A practical problem that arose, which made it difficult to fix the the statelessness of the appellant, was that the Indian Citizenship Act required that a foreigner submit a copy of the foreign passport while applying for Indian citizenship. The Bench also observed that the facts of the case demonstrate that it was the woman's intention to make India her permanent home.
In view of this conundrum, and given the International commitment to reducing statelessness, the Bench proceeded to urge the Central Government authorities to decide expeditiously on the woman's application for Indian citizenship, if she were to make one. The Court said,
"... this Court is not permitted to direct the Central Government to grant the petitioner Indian citizenship. This would impinge upon the Executive's functions. However, in light of the peculiar situation of the petitioner; her ordinary residence and family life in India; and India's international law obligations to prevent statelessness, we direct that upon receipt of the petitioner’s application, if so filed, the appropriate authority may consider her application expeditiously, keeping in mind the complications that have emerged in her legal status as enumerated above."
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