Revoking passports open to legal challenge



The Indian authorities' action to revoke passports of Goans who opted to register their births in Lisbon and obtain 'assento do nascimento' based on its interpretation that it is akin to acquiring Portuguese nationality will be open to legal challenge much in the same way as it was back in 2013 by former Benaulim MLA, Caetano Silva.

The MHA had similarly ruled back in 2013 and passed an order that Silva was a Portuguese national merely because his birth was registered with the authorities in Lisbon. 

The order had placed in jeopardy Silva's membership of the Goa legislative Assembly and he successfully challenged it before two High Courts -- Delhi High Court and the Goa Bench of the Bombay High Court.

The order passed by the 'Central Prescribed Authority', holding that Silva was a Portuguese citizen as his birth was registered in that country (Portugal) was quashed.

Interestingly however, the high court in its 2016 order did not give finality to the matter but remanded it back in the jurisdiction of the MHA to re-adjudicate Caetano's case. 

It's another matter that the ex-legislator's term was coming to an end and the case was forgotten but the MHA continued to hold its ground that registering the birth in Lisbon is akin to acquiring Portuguese citizenship/nationality.

Furthermore, the MHA subsequently empowered the two district magistrates of Goa -- North and South Goa Collectors -- to examine Indian and Portuguese citizenship issues of individual Goans whenever a question is raised.

The Collectors, according to that MHA order of 2019, will be responsible for scrutinising each case read with Indian Citizenship Act 1955 and Citizenship Rules of 2009, and submit their reports to the Centre.

“State government would forward these recommendations to the Central Government along with its comments. The inquiry shall be conducted in fair and transparent manner keeping in mind the provisions contained in the Act and the Citizenship Rule, 2009.” the MHA had said.

The issue has again come to the fore now with the authorities proceeding to revoke passports of some 70-plus Goans who had been enjoying dual citizenship in India and Portugal.

In peril of losing their Indian citizenship are those Goans, many of who are public representatives including politicians and bureaucrats, who proceeded to register their birth in Lisbon so as to clear the path for their children or dependents to acquire Portuguese nationality.

Those who registered their births (Assento do nascimento) and obtained a 'Cartao de Cidadao' (formerly Bilhete de Indentidade) or a Portuguese passport have no escape route from surrendering their Indian passport and citizenship.

A discreet verification by the government authorities back in 2015 had exposed a situation where several politicians, policemen and bureaucrats held dual nationalities -- Indian and Portuguese. 

They have no option but to challenge in the courts the interpretation of the MHA, on grounds that the process they opted for does not amount to acquisition of Portuguese nationality but merely a 'transcription' of the registration of their birth so that their children and grandchildren can opt for the process.

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