By Shrirang Asthaptre and Sanjana Kulkarni, 5th Year Student, ILS Law College, Pune
National Register of Citizens (NRC) was first introduced vide an amendment to the Indian Citizenship Act in 2003, mandating the State to maintain a record of Indian citizens, thereby making easier, the identification and deportation of illegal immigrants therein. Notably, it has played an integral role in identifying illegal immigrants, thereby preserving the “ethnic uniqueness” in Assam, inspiring the Central Government to implement this nationwide – having effectuated exercise since 2015, around 1.9 million people failed to meet the parameters laid down. Interestingly, its implementation in Assam was on the account of the Judicial Order, which directed the State Government to undertake the said policy, after being convinced of the dire need to halt non-citizens from casting votes during the elections.
In the said case, the Court realized that the Illegal Migrants Determination Tribunals Act, 1983 assured protection to the trespassers in matters of citizenship and was unconstitutional and in violation of the principles of equality- thereafter, it invited rigorous enforcement of NRC for ensuring the registration of citizens and expulsion of illegal entrants from the country.
Probably its overwhelming success in Assam coupled with the controversial inauguration of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, compelled Home Minister of India, Amit Shah, to ensure a nation-wide implementation, sparking protests, as people feared banishment on failing to produce the requisite documents. And for the sake of calming unrests, the Central Government prescribed several documents which could be relied upon by the subjects of the state for successfully registering themselves. Inter-alia, it allowed the production of Passport as a document to prove citizenship in India, impelling the Authors to pose the following question:
“Whether this travel document is conclusive proof of citizenship in India?”
PASSPORT FOR DETERMINING CITIZENSHIP – GLOBAL TRENDS:
Passport, a travel document which identifies a citizen, in effect requesting foreign powers to allow the bearer to enter and pass freely and safely, recognizing the right of the bearer to the protection and good offices of respective diplomatic and consular officers, has been in practice since ancient times – it has played a pivotal role while travelling through the silk route, where merchants carried the seal of their respective Kings as a means of securing protection while travelling. It must be noted that Buddhism and Islam spread continentally thanks to these Royal Decrees, which ensured safe passage for the Missionaries. Nevertheless, Passport was formally introduced in the United Kingdom during the reign of King Henry V, which was later enhanced in:
- 1793, wherein aliens were directed to obtain a passport from the Mayor for Inter or Intra State transport.
- 1798, whereby non-citizens were required to obtain a passport from the Secretary of the Majesty for leaving the Kingdom.
- 1836, whereby foreigners were obliged to produce passports before the concerned authorities.
- 1905, whereby the Home Ministry was vested with the responsibility of deciding upon matters of immigration.
Post World War I, the United Kingdom sought to grant passport only to its citizenry – the basis of modern-day passport regulations were adopted globally under the supervision of the League of Nation, which prescribed for the nation of departure to issue a Passport and that of arrival, a Visa for practically allowing the individual to truly secure international travel. This continues to be in vogue today, subject to stringent policies at the domestic and international level for international security.
Universally, the passport by its very nature connotes the country to which a person is affiliated to; whether the said logic holds any significance at National Level is debatable. For instance, the Andhra Pradesh High Court has affirmed that under no circumstances can passport be the best evidence of citizenship. While the Madras High Court has restated that passports reflect allegiance towards the grantor and effectively showcases citizenship, the Bombay High Court has recently confirmed the validity of Passports as a means of verifying citizenship herein, thus, opening a new chapter in the Indian Immigration Law of the 21st century.
Such conflict of opinions for balancing the constitutional interests of the state and the global human rights scenario has transpired even in the West. In fact, the fountain of Common Law, the United Kingdom, which recognizes dual-citizenship, has averred that a British Passport obtained in accordance with the law, was sufficient for proving citizenship. Oppositely, the House of Lords observed that where a lady holding a BOC Passport travelled on an Indian one, she forfeited the status of a citizen of the UK of any nature.
Interestingly, the founder and bastion of Modern Democratic Human Rights, the United States of America recognizes that a valid passport does not confer citizenship upon the holder , except when it has been issued to a citizen of the country. However, the Ninth Circuit and the Board of Immigration Appeals have interpreted 22 U.S.C. § 2705 and declared passport as conclusive proof of citizenship.
Zimbabwe, formerly known as Rhodesia when governed by the mighty British Empire during the colonial era too has interpreted the Laws to ensure that they confirm to the prevailing global trend. Its Apex Court, on one instance, has averred that a passport is merely a license for permitting the holder to exercise his or her Constitutional Right to Travel and possessing one does not imply conferment of citizenship in any manner.
Lesotho, a landlocked kingdom within the Republic of South Africa, through its Apex Court, clarified that a passport is not conclusive proof of citizenship in any manner for every reason whatsoever.
Amidst the internal judicial discord, the aforesaid nations largely agree on the fact that passport cannot be utilized as conclusive proof of evidence. This inference is rather important since those having obtained it by fraudulently would be at an advantage of claiming benefits of a citizen, furthering illegal immigration in the country. Undoubtedly, the Allahabad High Court was correct when it held that the mere acquisition of a foreign passport would normally be considered sufficient only to raise a rebuttable presumption of voluntary acquisition of foreign citizenship and that the fact that a person obtained a passport may be capable of explanation. This aligns with the reading of the High Court of Namibia, which has maintained that the citizenship of a person remains unaffected where he or she was compelled to obtain a foreign passport without any intention of renouncing original citizenship. A similar position has been reiterated by the Apex Court of Bangladesh, whereby the citizenship of one Golam Azam was unaffected despite him holding a Pakistani Passport post-independence.
However, by permitting reliance upon Passports for proving citizenships, it appears that the Central Government is ignoring the established judicial precedents and the prevailing international standards for achieving a rather uncertain goal. In the light of the aforesaid, the Authors plead the concerned authorities to retrospect the usage of passport for showcasing valid citizenship, thereby ensuring that the Central Government and the Judiciary are on the same page on the said aspect, ultimately preventing legal ambiguities from prevailing in the said scenario.
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