Declared foreigner, Army ex-subedar in Assam sent to detention centre

Tribunal says Sanaullah failed to give proof to establish he is Indian citizen by birth; lawyer says papers overlooked.

A retired Army subedar was detained on Tuesday to be lodged in a detention centre for illegal foreigners in the state after a Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) declared him a foreigner.

Md Sanaullah, who retired as subedar with the Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME) of Indian Army in August 2017, stated in his testimony at the FT that he served in insurgency-affected areas of Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast.

He was declared a foreigner by FT No 2 Kamrup (Rural) on May 23 this year. His family members and lawyer maintain that Sanaullah’s Indian citizenship can be proved easily with the documents of his ancestors, and of that of his employment with the Indian Army. Sanaullah at present works as a sub-inspector with Assam Police’s border wing — a special wing that deals with detection of illegal migrants in the state.

Confirming that Sanaullah has been detained, Additional SP of Kamrup, Sanjib Saikia, told The Indian Express, “The FT declared him a foreigner and we are complying with the law.”

Sanaullah was kept in police custody in North Guwahati after being detained on Tuesday and was sent to a detention centre in Kokrajhar on Wednesday afternoon, his lawyer Sahidul Islam said. He had received the notice from FT last year and first appeared at the Tribunal on September 25, 2018.

The FTs — there are 100 across the state — are quasi-judicial bodies meant to “furnish opinion on the question as to whether a person is or is not a foreigner within the meaning of Foreigner’s Act, 1946”.

Sanaullah’s son Shahid Akhtar, 18, who studies at a college in Guwahati, said, “ The FT order was arbitrary. We will challenge it.” The first point mentioned by the FT order states that Sanaullah submitted that he had joined service in 1978 and questions that if he was born in 1967, how he got the job when he was 11 years old. The order also asks if he had joined service in 1987, then why was his name not enrolled in the voters’ list of 1986, since he had by then “attained the age of 20 years”.

Lawyer Sahidul Islam said, “In his written affidavit he stated that he joined the Army in 1987 [actual year of joining]. Orally, during cross-examination, also he said 1987 — but it was recorded wrongly as 1978 by court officials. We could not oppose it then because his signature was taken on a blank paper.”

Islam said Sanaullah and his family have multiple citizenship documents — names of members in voters’ list from 1966, 1970 and 1977; his own matriculation certificate; and father’s land documents, among others.

The FT bases its order, among other factors, on “inconsistencies” in Sanaullah’s age and that of his relatives, differences in spelling of certain names, absence of certain documents, and even questions why certain family members were named in voters’ list of certain years.

The FT noted that Sanaullah had submitted that the two dates mentioned in the investigating officer’s report of having met him and filed the report cannot be true because “as per service report mentioned in the Sheet RollLeave Portion of Defence Personnel, he was in Counter Insurgency Area (OP HIFAZAT, Manipur)”.

Guwahati-based advocate Aman Wadud, who will challenge the FT’s order in Gauhati High Court, said, “There was no investigation before accusing Sanaullah. The border police prepared the verification report without even meeting him – in their report, the police said he is a labourer. The FT very mechanically declared him a foreigner without appreciating all his documents.”

Wadud also said, “If the FT overlooks due process, then no person’s citizenship is safe – anyone can be randomly picked up, declared as foreigner and thrown into a detention centre.”

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