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First ‘Indian’, then ‘foreigner’, Gauhati HC frees Assam woman caught in tribunal flip-flop

Hasina Bhanu was declared a foreigner in March 2021 by a Foreigner’s Tribunal — the same one that in 2016 had found that she was ‘not a foreigner/ illegal migrant of any stream’.

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Guwahati: A resident of Assam’s Darrang district, who had first been found to be an Indian by a Foreigner’s Tribunal, and then declared a foreigner by the same tribunal five years later, walked free Thursday following a judgment by the Gauhati High Court.

55-year-old Hasina Bhanu from Shyampur village was lodged in the Tezpur detention centre in October after she was declared a foreigner earlier this year by the Foreigner’s Tribunal in Mangaldai, Darrang — the same one that in 2016 had declared that Bhanu was “not a foreigner/ illegal migrant of any stream”. 

The high court bench of Justice N. Kotiswar Singh and Justice Malasri Nandi in the judgment Monday cited a Supreme Court ruling from 2019, Abdul Kuddus Vs. Union of India, when pulling up the tribunal on the basis of res judicata

This is the principle that a matter, once adjudicated, cannot be pursued again by the same parties. “We are unable to understand how the Tribunal proceeded to examine the matter and made the aforesaid observation,” said the judgment.

The judgment deemed the second tribunal proceeding “illegal” and said, “Since the identity of the petitioner in the earlier proceeding and the impugned second proceeding is the same and there is no finding by the Tribunal that the present petitioner is different from the earlier proceedee, we are of the view that the second impugned opinion in respect of the same person cannot be sustained.”

‘Happy but time, money lost’

In 2019, Bhanu received a Foreigners’ Tribunal notice for a second time from Shyampur police station — the same border police branch that had sent her the first notice several years before. 

According to Bhanu’s counsel, Zakir Hussain, the second tribunal rejected the “linkage document” — a document linking her and her father — that it had found to be valid in 2016.

“She had submitted a land document linking her to her father, but that document was declared by the member [of the tribunal] to be defective,” said Hussain.

“In the first case, she submitted the documents of her father, grandparents etc., and the same documents were exhibited to this tribunal too,” he added. 

Remarking on why Bhanu was served a second notice, Hussain claimed that there had been no physical verification in the matter, and “had the investigation been done by the police” there would not have been a second proceeding. 

Meanwhile, Akram Hussain, Bhanu’s brother-in-law, said, “We had fought the earlier case for 1-1.5 years and she was declared an Indian. Later, the same court declared her a foreigner. But we are very happy that she will return now.”

Hussain said the family were farmers and had to “sell the land to fight the case”.  

“Who will give us back this lost time and money now? We just want to appeal to the Centre to compensate us,” he added. 

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)

Also read: ‘Borderlands’ shows what it means to live on India’s borders today. It counts the human cost


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