Issue passport to Indian woman of Chinese origin, Madras High Court directs MEA

A view of the Madras High Court building in Chennai. File

A view of the Madras High Court building in Chennai. File
| Photo Credit: K. Pichumani

Convinced with the Indian nationality of a 67-year-old woman of Chinese origin, the Madras High Court has directed the Union Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to issue her a passport so that she can visit her eldest son, an Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) cardholder, residing at Auckland in New Zealand.

Justice Anita Sumanth passed the orders after not finding any adverse remarks against the writ petitioner Wong Mui Cheen in a “highly confidential and secret” report submitted by central intelligence agencies to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). The judge resealed the report and returned it to the Ministry.

“This court does not find any information in the Annexures (submitted by the MHA in the court in a sealed cover along with a covering letter) adverse to the interests of the writ petitioner that would come in the way of the nationality of the petitioner being confirmed, or her being issued a passport,” the judge wrote.

Representing the petitioner, senior counsel V. Prakash, assisted by Gautam S. Raman, said, the petitioner’s father Wong Tsam Cha (since dead) was born in China and had come to India to pursue his living. He had married her mother who was born in Sikkim and belonged to the Lepcha community.

Initially, the petitioner had made a wrong claim that her mother was born in Bhutan but that was corrected subsequently. Her parents had got married in Kolkata and gave birth to her on November 27, 1957. The Kolkata Municipal Corporation had issued a birth certificate to that effect on November 8, 1976.

In the 1976 birth certificate, the narration against the column Nationality/Birth identified petitioner to be a ‘Chinese Buddhist.’ Since this turned out to be a hurdle in obtaining a passport several years later, she obtained another birth certificate from the Corporation in 2013 without any such mention.

In the meantime, the petitioner married Li Wenfa in 1976 and moved to Chennai where the couple gave birth to four children. While her eldest son and the youngest daughter were now residing in New Zealand and the United Kingdom respectively, the other two children hold Indian passports, the counsel said.

The petitioner’s father died in 1991 and her husband passed away in 2021. Though she was in possession of Aadhaar, PAN and ration cards, her applications for issuance of Indian passport were not considered since 2007 just because of the mention of ‘Chinese Buddhist’ in the 1976 birth certificate, she complained.

After perusing all relevant records, Justice Sumanth pointed out that Section 3(1)(a) of the Citizenship Act, 1955 states that every person born in India between January 26, 1950 and July 1, 1987 shall be entitled to citizenship by birth and that the writ petitioner falls exactly within this bracket.

“Undoubtedly, this, by itself, cannot efface legitimate concerns being entertained in regard to a person’s nationality, if there are any. There are also sufficient safeguards in the Passports Act of 1967 that provide for such situations and eventualities and the authorities are well equipped to intervene in cases where genuine apprehensions are proven to exist,” the judge said.

She went on to state: ”The court is conscious that the question of nationality is a sensitive one, and one should be extremely cautious in rendering any finding that may impact the conferment of this benefit. The marshalling of facts relevant to this issue is thus critical, as is the necessity for those facts to be unambiguously admitted by all parties concerned.”

However, “the present case does not present any such hurdles or hinderances. The undisputed facts as adumbrated supra have been carefully taken note of, and in the considered view of the court, there is nothing that stands in the way of the respondents issuing a passport to the petitioner based on her application,” the judge concluded.

She pointed out that the Central government authorities themselves had not disputed the nationality of the petitioner’s mother and had accepted the claim that she was born in Sikkim and not in Bhutan as was claimed wrongly on the first occasion. The judge directed the Regional Passport Officer in Chennai to issue a passport to the petitioner within four weeks.

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