Herald: Elusive solution to dual citizenship

Elusive solution to dual citizenship

04 Jun 2019 05:09am IST
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04 Jun 2019 05:09am IST

The dual citizenship issue that affects Goa may not be an easy one to decide and close.

This is a matter peculiar only to Goa and the District Collectors who have been tasked with examining the issue and recommending on each individual case, have a long, arduous exercise ahead. India does not offer dual citizenship, so going strictly by the provisions contained in the Indian Citizenship Act 1955 and Citizenship Rules of 2009, it would be easy strike off the second citizenship of any Indian citizen. But, this will not be so facile a decision to be taken.

The issues involved in this aren’t merely restricted to obtaining foreign nationality, but then in turn lead to the non-surrender of Indian citizenship, illegal stay in India, violation of the Foreigners Act and other provisions of law. Taking only a legal perspective in deciding on the dual citizenship may not be practical in this instance. History and the human interest factor will have to be considered before a final verdict is pronounced on the issue.

There are today an estimated 50,000 Goans who have sought Portuguese citizenship under the laws prevalent in that country that allow Goans born before 1961 and those born after 1961 up to two generations to register their births at the Central Registry in Portugal and obtain a bilhete de identidade, which is essentially an identity card of a Portuguese citizen. Most Goans who have registered their births in Portugal, have gone on to obtain the identity card and even a Portuguese passport and have made their life elsewhere, especially in Britain, but there are hundreds of others who have not crossed the borders of Goa and are still living here.

It is interesting that a large percentage of the latter, are senior citizens who have registered their births in Portugal only to facilitate the obtaining of the same benefit to their children and grandchildren, who have been born after 1961. They have no other intention in registering their births in Portugal. The question that has to be answered here, and that has been debated in Goa for years, is whether merely registering a birth in Portugal makes the person a Portuguese citizen.

According to Portuguese legal experts, Portuguese nationality can be proved only through a certificate of the settled record (or assento) of birth obtained from the Portuguese civil registry. A view advocated in Goa is that the mere registration of one’s birth in Portugal does not amount to citizenship. Some month ago Goans who had registered their births in Portugal had received letters stating that their names would be added to the voting rolls in Portugal. The citizenship question that has to be settled, before others are taken up. If the State decides that the registration of the birth in Portugal implies that the person has obtained Portuguese citizenship, how is the State going to treat these persons, especially the senior citizens?

There are also arguments that Goans were Portuguese citizens prior to 1961 and never gave up this citizenship, so they are not obtaining anything new, but reclaiming what was theirs. There are concessions being sought for the section of people who have obtained the Portuguese citizenship. All these points have to be settled by the authorities, and it may be indeed difficult for the district collectors to come to an informed decision unless the entire matter is first decided at the highest level. Individual cases can be taken up by the District Collectors only after they have been given the terms of reference for their decision.

Sans clear instructions, the decisions taken by the Collectors could be subject to further debate and not be considered as final. This calls for a decision from the Centre, from the Ministry of Home Affairs, to end the discussion once and for all.

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