Not granting citizenship rights is the "worst possible kind" of deprivation, the Delhi High Court has said, paving the way for an Indian couple, living in exile for 23 years as they were denied passports, to return home.
A bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar directed the Centre to issue valid passports to the couple, who were Naga human rights activists, and said it was "extremely distressing that two Indian citizens have been constrained to seek refuge from the United Nations Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)" before they applied for and got Canadian citizenship.
"Can these deprivations ever be adequately compensated in any terms? The answer has to be a clear no," the bench said.
"The deprivation in the present case is of the worst possible kind. The citizens of India have actually, in effect, been exiled from their own country for a long period of almost 23 years from July 2, 1994 when the petitioner no.2 lost her passport and duplicate thereof was denied to her which would have enabled her to travel back.
"As a result, this couple has been deprived from associating with their close family members and friends and compelled to live in foreign countries without break, till visas were issued to them in the present case," it said.
The court's judgment came on the plea of the couple from Manipur challenging revocation of their citizenship and impounding of passport in 1995 when they were overseas.
The woman, Peingamla Luithui, had lost her passport while in Thailand in 1994, but was never issued a duplicate one by the Indian authorities.
Her husband Luingam Luithui was forced to join her in Thailand, as he could not leave her alone. His passport too was impounded when he went to get additional pages. No reason or order was ever communicated to him.
The government had said that Luingam was associated with the NSCN(I-M), then a banned outfit, but no case was ever found to have been registered against him.
The Indian authorities later took a defence in the court that the couple had acquired Canadian citizenship.
The court, in its order, said this case manifests the failure to abide by the statutory mandate as well as ignorance about the correct procedure and the rights of the citizens, which led to gross errors having serious repercussions for the persons affected.
"We also find that the orders which may be correct or warranted in a case, would get criticised upon a judicial review because of procedural infractions. Acts and omissions of the respondents, as in this case, also have international ramifications. These could result in embarrassment of the State across boundaries.
"Therefore, sensitisation of their officials on the issues, awareness and training about the basic and relevant laws as well as procedures, both statutorily prescribed or laid down by judicial precedents, deserves the immediate attention of the authorities to ensure that such errors are not repeated," the bench said.
According to the couple's plea, they were allowed to visit India only on tourist visas to see their family in case of any illness and that too, under court orders.
They had also sought full restoration of their civil rights, including the right of permanent residence in India as citizens of the country by birth.
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