Tribunal Dubs Woman 'Foreigner' After First Calling Her 'Indian'; HC Quashes Decision

In 2016, Hasina Bhanu was found to be 'Indian by birth' by the FT. However, in March this year, it heard her case again and detained her for being a 'foreigner', prompting the Guwahati high court to step in.

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New Delhi: The Guwahati high court on Monday, December 13, ordered the release of one Hasina Bhanu who was deemed to be a foreigner by the Foreigners Tribunal (FT) – I in March this year and subsequently held in a detention camp in Tezpur jail since October, despite having been dubbed ‘Indian’ by the same FT in 2016, NDTV reported.

In August, 2016 after being served her first notice by the tribunal, Bhanu (55) had submitted seven documents including voter list records of her father and grandfather from 1966, her own voter list record from 1989 and documents linking her to her father and grandfather. On the basis of these documents, the Darrang tribunal declared her “Indian by birth”.

However, the Assam border police suspected her of having come to the country from Bangladesh and thus filed another case against her in 2017 with the same tribunal, FT – I. 

At the second hearing in March this year, Bhanu submitted 17 documents but this time, the tribunal found an issue with her “linkage documents” and declared her a “foreigner of the post-1971 stream”. She was then detained in October, leading her to file a petition with the high court.

Hearing the matter on Monday, the Guwahati high court set aside the tribunal’s 2021 decision citing the precedent set by the Supreme Court judgment in the case of Abdul Kuddus vs Union Of India, 17 May, 2019. In that case, the top court had ruled that the principle of res judicata (a matter that has been adjudicated by a competent court cannot be tried again by the same parties) applies to “quasi-judicial bodies” (such as the FT) as well and that the FT was aware that Bhanu was the same person that had been tried earlier in 2016. 

Also read: What 787 Cases In The Gauhati HC Tell Us About How ‘Suspected Foreigner’ Cases Are Decided

The principle of res judicata was mentioned by Bhanu in her petition as well.

Moreover, the bench of Justice N. Kotishwar Singh held that the FT’s 2021 decision violated Article 141 of the constitution (the law laid down by the Supreme Court will be binding in all other courts in the country) and thus, quashed the tribunal’s decision and allowed Bhanu to leave the detention camp.

In the past, the Guwahati high court has quashed several similar orders from FTs, which usually deem that the linking orders of ‘suspected foreigners’ are not in order and they are thus deemed foreigners. These decisions carry with them great human costs in terms of loss of identity, belonging and the right to live in the country.

Following the court’s decision on Monday, the Indian Express reported that Bhanu’s family will pick her up from Tezpur jail on Thursday.