Madras High Court directive to Centre on citizenship plea of Lankan refugees

The Madras High Court Thursday directed the Centre to pass appropriate orders within 16 weeks on a petition filed by 65 Sri Lankan Tamils, residing in a refugee camp in Tiruchirapalli district for the past 35 years, seeking grant of citizenship.

Disposing of the petition by the refugees of Kottapattu camp, who had arrived in the state in 1983 from the island nation after the ethnic strife intensified, Justice G R Swaminathan said they have amply demonstrated that they had the intention to make India their permanent home.

He also likened their situation to the Hindu mythological concept of “Thirsangu Sorgam” (stuck and unable to make progress either way).

Describing the living condition in such camps as “hellish”, the judge said even the posting of an IPS officer in Mandapam refugee camp is considered a punishment.

Asking them to stay in the refugee camp for a long time was also a violation of human rights, he noted.

“Keeping them under surveillance and severely restricted condition and in a state of statelessness for such a long period certainly offends their right under Constitution of India,” the judge said.

Alluding to a Delhi High Court judgement, the judge said the Centre had implied powers to grant citizenship, and need not feel helpless or take shelter under the Citizenship Act.

“The government should take note of the fact that the petitioners had come to India faced with a grave threat to their lives and limbs in Sri Lanka during the ethnic strife in 1983-85. They had sought asylum in India.

“A person who is running for his life cannot obviously be expected to wait for visa and come legally,” he observed.

The petitioners submitted they had applied for citizenship through the Tiruchirapalli district collectorate, but the applications were not forwarded to the central government.

The judge directed the petitioners to file fresh application seeking citizenship and ordered the district collector to forward the same without any delay, to the central government.

The court further said that once the government receives the applications, it shall pass appropriate orders within 16 weeks.

The judge, however, refrained from directing the Centre to grant citizenship to the petitioners, saying the matter fell within the exclusive executive domain of the government.

Earlier, the Tamil Nadu government counsel said the power to grant citizenship was vested with the Centre.

Besides, the petitioners cannot seek citizenship as a matter of right because they were illegal migrants who came to India without valid passport or travel documents.

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