Madras High Court rejects plea to grant Indian citizenship to children born at Sri Lankan Tamil refugee camps

Judges say such a general direction cannot be issued unless the authorities concerned were provided with basic details required to grant citizenship

March 14, 2024 03:25 pm | Updated 03:26 pm IST - CHENNAI

The rehabilitation camp for Sri Lankan refugees at Irumboothipatty in Karur district. Representational image. File

The rehabilitation camp for Sri Lankan refugees at Irumboothipatty in Karur district. Representational image. File | Photo Credit: G. Moorthy

The Madras High Court on Thursday, March 14, 2024 refused to issue a general direction to the Centre to grant Indian citizenship to all children born at the special camps for Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu. The court disposed of a public interest litigation (PIL) petition which sought such a direction.

Chief Justice Sanjay V. Gangapurwala and Justice D. Bharatha Chakravarthy said, the PIL petition was bereft of details and that the authorities concerned would be able to consider the plea only when basic details such as the date and place of birth, parents’ citizenship and so on could be submitted.

V. Ravikumar, an advocate based in Chennai, had filed the PIL petition. He claimed to have made a representation to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on September 17, 2022, for considering the issue of granting Indian citizenship to every baby born in the camps for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees.

After the NHRC took cognizance of the issue, the Union Home Ministry (citizenship wing) sent a detailed communication to the petitioner on December 14, 2022 explaining why citizenship by birth could not be claimed now, as a matter of right, by all those who were born at the refugee camps.

The Ministry stated that Indian citizenship was granted to Indian origin Tamils as per the terms of Sirimavo - Shastri Agreement of the year 1964 and the Sirimavo - Gandhi Agreement of the year 1974. Then, the issue was dealt with under Section 5(1)(b) of the Citizenship Act applicable to people of Indian origin.

However, the statutory time limit for making an application under the Sirima - Shastri pact of 1964 was fixed to be October 31, 1981 and the Indian Origin Tamils who had failed to apply before the cut-off date were not entitled to get Indian citizenship even under Section 5(1)(b).

The Ministry further stated that a foreigner who had entered India without valid travel documents and remained beyond permitted period of time would be considered only an illegal migrant under Section 2(1)(b) of the Citizenship Act which provides different modalities for acquiring citizenship.

An amendment was carried out to the Citizenship Act in 1986 and the statement of objects and reasons for the amendment highlighted that a large number of persons of Indian origin had entered India from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and some African countries and they had been residing here for long.

The Centre had taken a serious view of clandestine entry of such persons and made the provisions related to grant of citizenship more stringent by stating that a person could become a citizen by birth, after the 1986 amendment, only if either of his/her parents was an Indian citizen.

Therefore, the law as of now stated that all those who were born in India on or after July 1, 1987 (when the 1986 amendment came into force), but before the commencement of the 2003 amendment, could claim Indian citizenship by birth only if either of his/her parents was an Indian citizen at the time of birth.

Further, Section 3(1)(c) of the Citizenship Act clearly states that those who were born in India after the commencement of the 2003 amendment could claim citizenship by birth only if both the parents were Indian citizens or if one of the parents was an Indian citizen and the other was not an illegal migrant.

Therefore, any claim for citizenship on the basis of birth would have to be made in accordance with Section 3 of the Citizenship Act, the Ministry stated. The petitioner urged the court to quash the Ministry’s communication, but the plea did not cut ice with the first Division Bench.

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