ForeigA man from Assam’s Karimganj district, who was declared an illegal migrant by a tribunal, can register as an Indian citizen because he is a Hindu, the Gauhati High Court said in a directive.
Bablu Paul, a resident of Patharkandi area of Karimganj district, was declared an illegal migrant by the district’s foreigners tribunal in 2017, as he allegedly entered Assam after March 25, 1971, the cut-off date under the Assam Accord to declare migrants as foreigners.
Paul told the court that his grandfather came to West Bengal from Bangladesh in 1964 when he was two years old, much before the 1971 cut-off. The court overruled the tribunal’s verdict.
The central government in 2019 brought in the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), but the rules to implement the amendment that allows Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Jains and Buddhists, but not Muslims, from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, are yet to be notified.
Paul, who came to Assam in 1984, was an Indian citizen as he was a Hindu and thus eligible to register himself as an Indian citizen as per the CAA, justices N Kotiswar Singh and Malasri Nandi said.
The court said Paul entered India with his father and grandfather Chintaharan Paul in September 1964 from the then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. They were given refugee status by the government of India, as was evident from a certificate issued by the West Bengal government to members of the minority community in East Pakistan desiring to stay in India.
His grandfather’s name was found in the electoral list of West Bengal of 1966, and his father bought land in Kolkata in 1976, which shows they were considered Indian citizens, the court said. Paul came to Patharkandi in 1984 and settled after starting a jewellery business.
The tribunal’s order declaring Paul as illegal immigrant as he entered Assam after 1984 was valid under section 6A(2) of the Citizenship Act, 1955, which defines the cut-off date for granting citizenship to migrants in Assam, the court said. “Under Section 6A(2) of the Citizenship Act, 1955, a person entering India before 01.01.1966 can be deemed to be a citizen provided he enters Assam from the specified territory (East Pakistan/Bangladesh) and he has been ordinarily residing in Assam after the date of entry,” it said.
Persons who entered India and Assam between January 1, 1966, and March 25,1971, can get the benefit of citizenship if they register themselves before the competent registering authority, the court said. Those who entered after the 1971 cut-off date will be declared as foreigners, it said.
“Since Bablu Paul had been staying in India for more than seven decades, having entered in 1964, in our view, he will be entitled to be considered for grant of citizenship by registration under the Citizenship Act, 1955,” the court said.
It was not clear how Paul will get Indian citizenship even if the court has allowed him to apply, according to Saumen Choudhury, a Silchar-based lawyer.
“The central government is yet to frame the guidelines on how to implement CAA even two years after its passage in Parliament,” he said. “The honourable high court has given a crucial judgement in this case, but it won’t help the person till clear guidelines on CAA come.”
If a person has a valid passport, residential permit and birth certificate of his parents, he is automatically an Indian citizen, another lawyer pointed out. “The court could have provided him relief under these clauses of the citizenship act instead of CAA,” he said, requesting anonymity.