A man in Assam – declared a “foreigner” 20 years ago – continued to enjoy “all the rights and privileges of being a citizen…”, including the right to vote, the Gauhati High Court observed in its order last week, adding that the state authorities were “oblivious”.
Jagat Ghosh in central Assam’s Nagaon district, was on November 3 told by the High Court to register as a “foreigner” with the Foreigner Regional Registration Officer (FRRO) within 60 days.
The court was hearing his petition that challenged the Foreigners Tribunal’s verdict, which declared him a foreigner in 1999 under the “streamline foreigner” category.
A “streamline foreigner” or “foreigners of stream”, is somebody who came to India between January 1, 1966 and March 24, 1971 and is staying in Assam.
As per clause 5 of the Assam Accord, they ought to register with the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO), which is in every district’s adminstrative office.
Once a person is declared by a Foreigners Tribunal or court as a streamline foreigner, the person is not deported but he is “disenfranchised” for 10 years, and he can’t vote.
After that period, he can apply for citizenship under the Citizenship Act, 1955, that ensures that even if the names of these persons are removed from the electoral rolls for 10 years, they will continue to enjoy other rights accorded to citizens.
But Mr Ghosh continued to vote even during the period of restriction.
“From the documents annexed by the petitioner, it appears that the petitioner had been casting his vote…continuously from 1970 to till date, thus virtually enjoying all the rights and privileges of being a citizen…,” Justices N Kotiswar Singh and Malasri Nandi said in their order passed on November 3.
“Unfortunately, all the state authorities involved in the process of detecting foreigners were also oblivious of the ex-parte order passed by the foreigners’ tribunal…,” the court added.
Back in 1999, the tribunal in its opinion didn’t find any evidence suggesting thar Mr Ghosh had entered Assam prior to January 1, 1966, as he didn’t appear for his own hearings.
It had passed a directive for Mr Ghosh to get himself registered as a foreigner with the Superintendent of Police (border), Nagaon.
Mr Ghosh, in the petition he filed at the Gauhati High Court, pled that due to his ignorance, he did not get registered as a foreigner even after the tribunal passed its order.
He added he came to know about the tribunal’s order in 2018, following which he approached the High Court last year.
The court has directed him to get himself registered with the Foreigner Regional Registration Officer in Nagaon within 60 days while disposing of the petition.
“Under the aforesaid peculiar circumstances, we are of the view that the registration has to be done within a period of 60 (sixty) days, we allow the petitioner to register himself before the concerned Registering Authority in spite of the delay which has occurred,” the order read.