Saturday, June 22, 2024

SC halts action against woman declared foreigner by Assam tribunal

In a significant move, the Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the Guwahati High Court’s judgment upholding an Assam tribunal’s order declaring a woman as a “foreigner,” and sought responses from the Centre, state government, the Election Commission and the Assam coordinator of the National Register of Citizens in the matter.

The apex court ordered that “no coercive steps” be taken against Maya Burman, who belongs to the Rajbonshi community, until further orders. A bench comprising Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra issued notices to the concerned authorities, Bar and Bench reported.

In January 2023, the Guwahati High Court upheld a 2019 order by a Foreigners’ Tribunal declaring Burman a ‘foreigner’ after she couldn’t produce the necessary documents, including her parents’ old voter cards, to prove her Indian citizenship. The court had refused to consider her school-leaving certificate, citing a lack of cross-examination of the headmaster.

Burman had claimed she couldn’t keep track of her documents after migrating from West Bengal’s Cooch Behar to Assam after marriage. The Supreme Court observed it was “practically impossible” for her to have kept the necessary documents, especially since some were destroyed in floods.

Assam’s NRC and Foreigners’ Tribunals

The case highlights the complex issue of determining citizenship in Assam, where the state published a National Register of Citizens (NRC) in 2019, aiming to identify undocumented immigrants. Over 19 lakh people were excluded from the final NRC list.

To scrutinize the citizenship claims of those left out, Foreigner’s Tribunals were set up, which have faced criticism for their alleged arbitrary functioning and lack of legal assistance to those summoned. The tribunals have declared over 1.9 lakh people as foreigners since their inception in 1964.

With the Supreme Court’s intervention, the case has brought renewed attention to the need for a fair and transparent process in determining citizenship, especially for those who have lived in the state for generations but lack proper documentation due to migratory circumstances or other reasons beyond their control.

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