Hearing a plea for Indian citizenship by 65 Tamils from Sri Lanka – the descendants of indentured labourers – the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has permitted them to submit a fresh application seeking citizenship to the District Collector concerned.
Justice G.R. Swaminathan directed the District Collector concerned to forward the same without any delay to the Central government. The Central government shall pass appropriate orders within a period of 16 weeks, considering the unique situation that the petitioners are placed in, the court said.
“I consciously refrain from issuing any positive mandamus directing the Central government to provide citizenship to the writ petitioners herein. This is because citizenship falls within the exclusive executive domain of the Central government.”
“My heart may bleed for the petitioners but I have to be mindful of the Lakshman Rekha that limits the bounds of judicial power. Going beyond will be encroachment. Any form of encroachment is bad. Encroachment by the judiciary into the executive realm can be no exception. Some may say it is exceptionally bad,” the judge said.
Both the Centre and State had contended the petitioners arrived in India without valid permits and, being illegal immigrants, were not eligible for the grant of Indian Citizenship as per the provisions under the Indian Citizenship Act , 1955.
However, the court held that the petitioners could invoke Article 21 of the Constitution, which applies to all, citizens and non-citizens alike. The petitioners were genealogically rooted to this soil, spoke our language, belonged to our culture and intended to make India their permanent home.
Also, the Central government had earlier given an undertaking that they will not be sent back compulsorily to Sri Lanka. Therefore, the case on hand presents a rather unique situation. They had been in camps for 35 years under surveillance in severely restricted conditions and a state of statelessness for a long period offends their Right under Article 21 of the Constitution, the court said.
The petitioners, most of them currently lodged at the transit camp in Kottapattu, Tiruchi District, and a few others in other transit camps, contended that they were descendants of labourers who had settled down in the tea estates of Sri Lanka during the colonial times. Following the turmoil, they said that they had to escape from Sri Lanka to save themselves.
They contended that they should not be considered as part of those Tamils from the Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka, the Tamil-speaking natives of Sri Lanka, who are treated as refugees. They claimed that they should be treated more as Indian repatriates and sought the grant of Indian citizenship.