The Gauhati High Court last week set aside an order by a Foreigners’ Tribunal declaring five residents of the Cachar district in Assam as foreigners and said that they should be given another chance to prove that they are Indians, The Indian Express reported on Tuesday.

The tribunal had passed the order ex-parte (without hearing the family’s arguments) in January 2018. The man, Rajendra Das, and his family members approached the High Court against the order.

A bench comprising Justices N Kotiswar Singh and Malasri Nandi said that if the family is able to prove the authenticity of the documents that they presented to the High Court, they may have a legitimate claim that they are Indians. Das had submitted voter lists of 1965 and 1971, in which the names of his parents were mentioned, and his marriage certificate with his wife Renubala.

The court noted that it is through citizenship that a person can enjoy fundamental rights and other rights conferred by the Constitution, Live Law reported. “A person stripped of citizenship would be rendered a stateless person if any other country refuses to accept him or her as its citizen,” the court said. “Such is the overarching significance and importance of citizenship to a person.”

The bench remarked that an opinion of a foreigners’ tribunal “almost seals the fate of the proceedee as far as the issue of citizenship is concerned”. Due to this, tribunals should pass their opinions after examining the evidence and not by way of default, the court added.

The court directed Das and his family to appear before the tribunal on or before December 24.

Earlier, the petitioner’s lawyer claimed that Das could not appear before the tribunal in 2018 because of bad health. The lawyer added that the tribunal’s order would have a cascading effect on his family.

In a separate case in September, the Gauhati High Court had set aside a similar ex-parte order and directed the petitioner to appear before the tribunal.

In August 2019, the final list of the National Register of Citizens had been published in Assam. More than 19 lakh people were left out of the final list, comprising around 6% of Assam’s entire population. Some of those left out appealed against their exclusion in the foreigners’ tribunals.