By Kalsang Rinchen
DHARAMSHALA, March 29: The government of India has decided to issue passport to Tibetans born in India between 26 January 1950 and 1 July 1987 as per the Indian Citizenship Act 1955 following a Delhi High Court ruling in a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) filed by a Tibetan.
A memorandum dated 17th March from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) which is the passport issuing authority in the country has directed its Regional Passport Offices and foreign missions to make passport facilities available to all Tibetan refugees born in India between the specified dates as per the Act. The Office Memorandum has been sent to all Regional Passport Offices and foreign missions.
The decision followed a case brought against the Government of India by Tibetan journalist Lobsang Wangyal, in which the Citizenship Act 1955 was affirmed by the High Court of Delhi on 22 September 2016.
The High Court on that date directed the MEA and all Passport-issuing authorities to process the applications for passports of eligible Tibetan refugees, or be liable to contempt of court.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) was requested by the MEA to let them know if they intended to file an appeal against the High Court's ruling.
In the meantime, the MEA complied with the High Court's order, and issued passports to Lobsang Wangyal and the other petitioners involved in the case.
Subsequently the MHA informed the MEA that they did not intend to file an appeal against the Delhi High Court order of 22 September, 2016.
After this same court order, a number of Tibetan refugees had also filed cases requesting the High Court declare them as Indian citizens by birth under the Citizenship Act 1955. The High Court clubbed all such matters for a single hearing on 29 March 2017, to which MEA observed that unless there is a stay against the court order dated 22 September, 2016, non-compliance of the same in general in respect of all such eligible Tibetan refugees amounts to contempt of the High Court.
In view of the above, the MEA decided that all Passport-issuing authorities in India and abroad, subject to usual checks and other passport formalities "shall process all the pending applications of Tibetan refugee applicants born in India between 26/01/1950 to 01/07/1987, for the issue of passports treating them as the Indian citizens by birth under Section 3(1)(a) of the Citizenship Act, 1955," read the Memorandum, a copy of which was acquired by Phayul
Those Tibetans born after July 1, 1987 if ‘either of whose parents is a citizen of India at the time of his/her birth’ are also entitled to the same right as per the Indian Citizenship Act 1955.
The MEA also stated that if the Police Verification Report (which is required as part of the passport application process) is "ADVERSE" only because the Tibetan refugee "is not an Indian citizen by birth", this should not be taken as Adverse, and passport should be issued as long as the applicant is otherwise eligible.
Lobsang's case was filed in Delhi High Court in May 2016 by his lawyers Giriraj Subramanium and Simarpal Singh Sawhney. The case was filed after his passport application was rejected, and his attempts to get citizenship certificate from MHA failed.
On 22 September honourable Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva of Delhi High Court in a landmark judgment quashed the government's rule to ask for a citizenship certificate, which was blocking Tibetans from getting a passport. The court ruling paved the way for Tibetans to obtain Indian passport.
Tibetan refugees in India are technically 'foreigners' and required under Foreigner's Act, 1946, to register their stay in India annually through 'Registration Certificate for Tibetans' (R.C) booklet, which is a mandatory document to acquire 'Identity Certificate' in lieu of travel document to travel abroad.
The provision of the Indian Citizenship Act recognizing Tibetans born between January 26, 1950 and July 1, 1987, as Indian citizens has for many years been listed among eligibility criterions for candidates applying for Union Public Service Commission exams for career in Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service and Indian Foreign Service etc.
The issue of applying for Indian citizenship has long been debated and was ignited further after media reports on a Tibetan woman getting her Indian passport in 2011 following a Delhi High Court order appeared. Former Prime Minister (Trisur) Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche had also voiced his reservations regarding Tibetans getting Indian citizenship.
Reacting to the Indian Election Commission's decision to issue voter IDs to Tibetans ahead of Lok Sabha elections in 2014, Tenzin Tsundue, a Tibetan writer and activist, told the Indian Express
, “It was very kind of the Indian government to initiate this move, but for us, going back to our motherland is more important. If we become Indian voters, we have to relinquish our RCs, which is why most of us have not opted for this. If we relinquish our RCs, we are no longer Tibetans and can never give up our moral and legal rights to Tibet.”
The Tibetan exile government known officially as the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) maintains that it has not objected to anyone seeking Indian citizenship or voting rights. “The decision to apply for Indian or any other country’s citizenship is a personal choice. The Indian Citizenship Act of 1955 grants citizenship rights to Tibetans born in India between 1950 and 1987; and to those born after 1987 if ‘either of whose parents is a citizen of India at the time of his/her birth’. CTA cannot prevent any Tibetans from applying for Indian citizenship,” the Tibetan PM Lobsang Sangay had said earlier.
Lobsang said that he is still very much a Tibetan as per the section 2 of the Tibetan Charter’s Article 8 and the provisions prescribed in Article 13 in case of adoption of another citizenship.
“Legally, I am an Indian through and through but at heart I am still a Tibetan as I still hold my allegiance to the Tibetan movement and to the CTA. So I am now a Tibetan-Indian,” Lobsang told reporters the day he received his Indian passport earlier this month.