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~By Kunal Rao

The Delhi High Court has dismissed a plea filed by a German National Stadtmueller Gabriele challenging the order passed by the Union home ministry which denied her request for granting citizenship by naturalisation under the Section 6(1) of the Citizenship Act 1955.

The single-judge bench of Justice Vibhu Bakhru said: “Accepting an application for naturalisation by the Central Government is a grant of privilege in exercise of its sovereign power,” while dismissing the plea.

“Principal reason for rejecting her application for citizenship stems from an allegation that she was involved in trafficking of drugs,” said Justice Vibhu Bakhru.

According to the plea, the petitioner claims that, “she first visited India in the year 1983 with the prospect of sourcing Indian handicrafts, gems and jewellery but got involved in spiritual development. She claims that she visited and stayed at various places of of religious importance and decided to settle down in the state of Goa. She claims that in the year 1996, she purchased a house property in Goa with the due permission of the Reserve Bank of India and has been residing there since then. The petitioner further states that she also incorporated a company on August 4, 2003 and has been carrying on a small business in India.”

Whereas, the Central Govt stated that the petitioner entered India on Nov 23, 2004 and was permitted to stay in India up to Nov 18, 2009. The respondents further stated that prior to 2004, she had entered India on Feb 4, 1998, on a visa that was valid till Aug 8, 1998. She again entered into India on Oct 12, 1998, on a visa which was valid till Oct 6, 1999. Subsequent thereto, she entered India on a tourist visa on Sep 29, 2000, which was valid till June 2, 2002. Thereafter, she had travelled to India on a business visa, which was valid till Nov 18, 2009 but was thereafter extended till Dec 18, 2013. On March 17, 2011, the petitioner filed an application under Section 6(1) of the Citizenship Act for acquiring citizenship by naturalisation. While the said application was pending, the petitioner also applied for extension of permission to stay in India. The said application (dated March 17, 2011) was rejected by the District Magistrate (North), Goa by an order dated May 5, 2014, principally, on the ground that the petitioner was suspected to be indulging in drug trade. The petitioner filed a revision application before the Central Government under Section 15 of the Citizenship Act impugning the decision of the District Magistrate rejecting her application for citizenship. The said revision petition was also dismissed by an order dated Feb 26, 2015.”

“A perusal of the said order indicates that the petitioner’s application was rejected pursuant to a report dated Aug 23, 2017 submitted by the Government of Goa. A copy of the said report has been produced in Court. The said report indicates that the Government of Goa did not recommend the petitioner for grant of citizenship by naturalisation, principally, on the ground that the petitioner was accused of an offence under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act),” said Justice Bakhru.

“It is, however, undisputed that there was a serious allegation against the petitioner and she was suspected of trafficking of drugs. Indisputably, 8.4 kgs of Hashish which is a large consignment was recovered from her suit case while she was boarding a flight from Mumbai to Zurich. The petitioner has not been convicted as her involvement in the crime was not established beyond reasonable doubt and she was acquitted on the benefit of doubt. It does not mean that the concerned authority is precluded from considering the same while evaluating whether the petitioner qualifies for naturalisation. Although the petitioner was acquitted, it cannot be disputed that there were good grounds to suspect the petitioner for commission of the said offence,” noted Justice Bakhru.

He further said, “For an alien to be granted citizenship by naturalisation, it would be necessary for the said person to qualify the conditions as set out in the Third Schedule of the Citizenship Act. One of the conditions specified therein is that the applicant be “of good character” (Clause (e) of the Third Schedule of the Citizenship Act). It is also important to understand that as an alien, the petitioner is not entitled to the fundamental rights – other than Article 21 and to a limited extent Article 14 of the Constitution of India – guaranteed to a citizen of India. Indisputably, the petitioner does not have any inherent right to reside in India or to be accepted as the citizen of this Country. Accepting an application for naturalisation by the Central Government is a grant of privilege in exercise of its sovereign power. The decision whether a person is required to be granted citizenship is at the discretion of the Central Government. It is a subjective decision. The merits of such decision cannot be questioned in these proceedings unless it is established that the same is capricious, malafide or whimsical.”

Justice Vibhu Bakhru further explained the law in other countries and said, “The law in several other countries is not much different. In terms of Section 6(1) of the British Nationality Act, 1981, the decision to issue a certificate of naturalisation vests with the Secretary of State. Similarly, Section 15 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1956 vests “absolute discretion” with the Minister to grant an application for naturalisation, if satisfied that the applicant is of a good character. It is also necessary to bear in mind that the onus to establish that the applicant qualifies the test of a good character rests with the applicant and not the Central Government.”

“There is no definition of the expression ‘good character’ in the Citizenship Act. Undoubtedly, the Central Government has wide discretion in setting the standards for its satisfaction as to the good character requirement. However, the expression must be understood in the context of the statute. The standards to qualify the good character requirement must be reasonable and as expected of a good and responsible citizen espousing the values engrafted in the Constitution of this country,” said Justice Vibhu Bakhru. “It is clear that the Central Government is not satisfied that the petitioner qualifies the good character requirement. This decision cannot be subjected to judicial review except on limited grounds. The said decision cannot be held to be arbitrary, capricious or whimsical and, thus, cannot be interfered with in these proceedings.”

Court also denied the contention of the petitioner that she would be rendered stateless and, therefore, the respondents were obliged to accept the petitioner as a citizen of India.

Court said, “This contention is also unmerited as, admittedly, the petitioner is a German National. Her parents are also German Citizens. The petitioner was born in Germany and had, admittedly, come to India in connection with a business relating to Indian handicrafts. She may have spent a considerable time in India, but a refusal to grant her citizenship by naturalisation does not render her Stateless as contended on her behalf.”

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