Bringing relief for a woman born in India to Sri Lankan Tamil refugees, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has directed the Centre to consider her application for an Indian passport.
The petition was filed by Harina who was born in a government hospital in Karur district in 2002. Her parents were housed in a refugee camp (rehabilitation camp). She completed her school and higher education in India and wanted to go abroad for employment.
As her efforts to obtain an Indian passport have been in vain, she filed the petition. The Centre told the court that since she was born after the cut-off date on July 1, 1987, she could not claim Indian citizenship as a matter of right. Relying on a Supreme Court decision in a case, it was submitted that a child born in India to an illegal immigrant after the cut-off date was also not eligible for citizenship. The Centre submitted that the petitioner could apply for citizenship by naturalisation and that it would be considered on merits by the competent authority.
Justice G.R. Swaminathan observed that, “I grant liberty to the petitioner to apply for Indian citizenship by naturalisation under Section 6 of the Citizenship Act. But I know that it is a long journey and may not afford immediate relief to her.”
Taking note of Section 20 of The Passports Act, 1967, the judge observed that the provision empowers the Central government to issue passport or travel document even to a non-citizen. Parliament chose to incorporate such a provision to deal with situations such as the one on hand. The Central government must be of the opinion that it was necessary to do so in the public interest, the court observed.
“The materials on record do not indicate that the petitioner is a Sri Lankan citizen. Prima facie it appears that her birth was not registered and therefore, she is not a Sri Lankan citizen. She is not an Indian citizen either. She is for all practical purposes a stateless person. Now, she wants a passport only to explore overseas employment opportunities,” the judge observed.
Right to earn one’s livelihood and right to travel abroad were enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution which applied to all persons, citizens and non-citizens alike. In these circumstances, granting a passport to the petitioner under Section 20 of The Passports Act was not going to prejudice the interest of the country. On the other hand, it would serve the public interest. Attending to the needs of the refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons was certainly a matter of public interest, the judge observed.
The court permitted her to submit an application under Section 20 of The Passports Act.