Eighty Overseas Citizens of India have moved the Supreme Court seeking directions to the Centre to stop them from being treated as “second class citizens” and to allow them to freely express their views against the government, The Times of India reported on Tuesday.
Overseas Citizenship of India is an immigration status that allows foreigners of Indian-origin to live and work in India indefinitely. This status is not available to applicants whose parents, grandparents or great-grandparents are Pakistani. Before the OCI scheme was launched in 2005, members of the diaspora could obtain Person of Indian Origin status.
The petition filed on Monday said that even though OCIs have a notable contribution through tax payments and professional work, they live in fear of losing their status. The petitioners, 57 of whom are Bengaluru residents, cited the Indian government’s arbitrary power to nullify the OCI status.
Section 7D of the Citizenship Act allows the Indian government to scrap the registration of the OCIs and may lead to them being prohibited from residing in India in case of violations of any law or for showing “disaffection to the Constitution of India”, the plea said, according to The Times of India.
“...These provisions under Section 7D are arbitrary and have a chilling effect on the freedom of expression of OCIs, several of whom in spite of being permanently resident in India cannot express peaceful dissent against the state for fear that such dissent will amount to either disaffection to the Constitution of India or the violation of any law,” it added.
The plea highlighted that the Union government’s policies had reduced the “basic rights of OCIs” and provided unrestrained powers to the administration to terminate their citizenship, reported The Times of India. “This subjects OCIs to a constant state of hardship, fear and uncertainty,” the petition claimed. “Further, this wholly defeats the very purpose of the OCI scheme which was unequivocally to grant dual citizenship.”
The petitioners said that by restricting the number of professions that OCIs may pursue in parity with non-resident Indians, “several OCIs practising other non-enumerated professions are hindered from meaningfully participating in and contributing to their professional streams in India”, according to the newspaper. The plea said that even if the OCIs lived and worked in the country permanently, they were often not allowed to ask for information under the Right to Information Act.
The plea also mentioned the Union home ministry’s November 2019 notification on adoption rights granted to OCI cardholders. “However, where an OCI or NRI living abroad adopts a child from India following the inter-country adoption regulations, then the host foreign country often automatically grants foreign citizenship to the adopted child who has at least one parent as a citizen of that host country,” the plea read, according to The Times of India. “As per section 9(1) of the Citizenship Act, this results in the child automatically losing his or her Indian citizenship without granting any opportunity to the child to retain his or her Indian citizenship on attaining majority.”
A bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian have asked the Centre to respond to the plea.
On March 4, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs announced that OCI cardholders will need special permission if they wish to take up any journalistic activities in the country. In the new rules for overseas Indians seeking visas, the home ministry had clubbed journalistic work with those related to the missionaries and the Tablighi sect.
Among other rules, the OCI cardholder would also need permission from the Foreign Regional Registration Office to take up any research work, internship with foreign missions or if they need to visit areas designated as restricted or protected.
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