A group of Overseas Citizens of India (OCIs) have asked the Supreme Court of India to direct the Indian government to give them full citizenship rights and stop treating them as second class citizens.
In a petition filed Monday, 80 OCIs, most of them living in India, told the court they contribute a lot to India through payment of taxes and their profession yet live in fear of losing their OCI status, the Times of India reported.
They cannot freely express their views and dissent against the government because of its arbitrary power to cancel their status, they told a three judge bench.
The bench comprising Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian, has sought the central government’s response to the petition, according to the Times.
Foreigners of Indian descent, except those hailing from Pakistan, can get OCI status that allows them to live and work in India indefinitely. Before the launch of OCI scheme in 2005, Indian diaspora could obtain Person of Indian Origin status.
Through their lawyer R. Venkataramani, the petitioners said current statutes and policies gave the government “unbridled and un-canalized discretionary powers to terminate their citizenship.”
“This subjects OCIs to a constant state of hardship, fear and uncertainty,” the petition said. “Further, this wholly defeats the very purpose of the OCI scheme which was unequivocally to grant dual citizenship”.
“Section 7D(b) of the Act allows the government to cancel a person’s OCI registration if they show disaffection to the Constitution of India and Section 7D(da) allows cancellation of OCI registration for violation of any law,” the petition said.
Both these provisions under Section 7D are arbitrary and have a chilling effect on the freedom of expression of OCIs, many of whom permanently reside in India, it said.
They “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 so prescribed,” it said.
While the Home Ministry notification of November 15, 2019, allowed OCIs to practise the professions of doctors, architects, lawyers and chartered accountants as per relevant laws, there was a whole list of other professions that were arbitrarily left out without sufficient reasons, they complained.
“By limiting the number of professions that OCIs can have parity with non-resident Indians (NRIs) in pursuing, several OCIs practizing other non-enumerated professions are hindered from meaningfully participating in and contributing to their professional streams in India.”
Although several OCIs reside and pay taxes in India, such persons are unable to meaningfully voice their grievance with local government authorities over civic infrastructure out of fear that their overseas citizenship may be cancelled for expressing their right to raise public grievances,” they said.
Even while OCIs worked and resided permanently in India, they were often disentitled to seek information from state authorities under the Right to Information Act, the petitioners said.
The November 2019 MHA notification granted adoption rights to OCIs on par with NRIs.
“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.
“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,” the petitioners said.
On March 4, the Home Ministry 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.