The Gauhati High Court has ordered that a woman first declared Indian, and less than five years later a “foreigner” by a tribunal, be released from detention in Assam.

In 2016, a foreigners’ tribunal in Assam’s Darrang district had said that Hasina Bhanu was not a “foreigner/illegal migrant”. Foreigners’ tribunals are quasi-judicial bodies tasked with deciding on matters of disputed nationality.

However, the Assam Police in 2017 again referred her case to the tribunal, suspecting her to be a Bangladeshi national, The Indian Express reported.

After that, in March 2021, the tribunal declared that she was a foreigner. In October, she was sent to a detention camp in Tezpur.

The woman then filed a petition before the Gauhati High Court, challenging the foreigners’ tribunals opinion. On Monday, the court set aside the order.

The High Court cited a judgement of the Supreme Court which said that the principle of res judicata also applied to proceedings before foreigners tribunals.

The principle states that a matter disposed of by a court is considered as adjudicated upon, unless it is challenged in a higher court. “We are unable to understand how the tribunal proceeded to examine the matter and made the aforesaid observation,” the High Court said in its order.

The Gauhati High Court added: “[The] tribunal could not have proceeded with the matter and, as such, the second proceeding would be illegal being violative of the mandate of law under Article 141 of the Constitution of India whereunder, the law declared by the Supreme Court will be binding on every Court and tribunal.”

The family of the petitioner said they were relieved after the High Court’s order. “She [Bhanu] was already declared Indian in 2016, but the same court put another bideshi [foreigner] case on her and made us run around, spend a lot of money and harass us,” her brother-in-law told The Indian Express.