By Lobsang Wangyal
McLEOD GANJ, India, 22 June 2017
Becoming homeless for a second time, Tibetans in India who are applying for an Indian passport have been told to leave the settlements where they were born and lived their whole lives.
Following the Delhi High Court order in September 2016 that all Tibetans born in India between January 1950 to July 1987 are Indian citizens by birth and should be issued passports, many Tibetans started applying for their passport.
Since the court order, some have obtained passports, while others are encountering various obstructions.
New rules issued by Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Government of India, have put an even greater stumbling block in the way of Tibetans seeking passports.
Tibet Sun obtained a copy of the new rules which state that Tibetans who apply for a passport cannot live in the Tibetan settlements.
Two women from Bylakuppe who applied for a passport in Bangalore were told that they must provide a different address other than their settlement address in order to process their applications, and that they can no longer live in the settlement.
The Regional Passport Office (RPO) in Bangalore handed the new rules to a monk who after getting his passport was told to surrender his Registration Certificate (RC, the stay permit for Tibetans), and to fulfil the conditions of the new rules.
The rules state:
- Registration Certificate and Identity Certificate should be cancelled.
- Applicant should not be staying at any of the designated Tibetan Refugee Settlements.
- Application should furnish an undertaking/declaration on plain paper to the effect that he no longer enjoys CTA [Central Tibetan Administration] benefits.
- Applicant should provide an undertaking/declaration on plain paper that he no longer enjoys any privileges including subsidies which would have accrued to him/her by virtue of being a RC holder and that these have been returned/surrendered.
With respect to Sl no 1, your identity Certificate has been received in this office and the same is retained in safe custody.
Regarding the Registration Certificate, you are advised to furnish the cancellation certificate from the concerned FRRO Office to which you have surrendered the same also certifying that you are not residing at the designated Tibetan Refugee Settlement.
The monk from Bangalore signed an undertaking to this effect when he surrendered his RC.
Tsering, a Tibetan resident of Forsyth Ganj near McLeod Ganj, whose application is pending due to a permanent address issue, said that he was asked to sign an undertaking at Shimla RPO stating that he will not take benefits of CTA.
The rules have put Tibetans in a dilemma as they want the benefits of a passport, but applying for one would make them homeless.
Further, the rules are confusing in saying that an applicant can no longer enjoy CTA benefits. CTA is an independent entity, run by exile Tibetans with the main aims of working for a free Tibet and looking after the welfare of Tibetans.
The question arises whether Tibetans after getting Indian passport are no longer a part of the CTA, and cannot get benefits such as the Fulbright scholarships sponsored the US government.
Not every benefit and opportunity managed by CTA is dependent on holding an RC. What about the fact that many top leaders in the CTA do not possess RC — including the Sikyong (President of CTA)?
Advocate Simarpal Sawhney in Delhi in an interview told Tibet Sun that these new MEA rules for Tibetans are in violation of Article 14 and Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
“These rules are made by some officials, not following any existing law. There is every reason to challenge these rules in court,” Sawhney said.
Meanwhile, due to lack of clear information at various RPOs about the court order to issue passport to Tibetans and the procedure to process applications, many Tibetans are left in limbo.
A Tibetan monk from Mainpat told Tibet Sun that the RPO Raipur, the capital of Indian state Chattisgarh, refused to accept his application.
“I was told by the officials of RPO Raipur that Tibetans will not be issued passports,” the monk said.
There has been no reply to an email enquiry about the issue, and all calls to the RPO have gone unanswered.
The RPO denying passports to Tibetans is seen as defying the Delhi High Court order of 22 September 2016, as well as the MEA letter of 17 March 2017, ordering RPOs to issue passport to eligible Tibetans (born between 1950 and 1987, and their children).
Many Tibetans under the jurisdiction of Kangra Suprintendant of Police receive an adverse police verification report, stating they don’t own land and property, and hence their permanent address cannot be approved.
They are then stuck not knowing what to do, wondering if possessing land or property is a condition to get a passport, which it is not.
Due to lack of clear rules about processing and surrendering RC and IC (the Yellow Book issued to Tibetans for travel purposes in place of a passport), Tibet Sun filed a RTI (Right to Information) request with the following questions:
- What is the procedure to surrender IC (the Yellow Book) when people of Tibetan parentage apply for a new Indian passport following the Delhi High Court order?
- If there is a rule regarding surrender of IC, have all the RPOs been instructed to follow the rule?
- Should the RPOs return the IC to the holder, as the book has the person’s travel record?
- Should the RPOs mention the IC number in the ‘Old Passport number’ field at the back of the new Indian passport?
- Have there been any instructions to the FROs on how and when to surrender the Registration Certificate (RC)? Should the RC be surrendered at the nearest FRO like the IC is surrendered at the nearest RPO after getting the passport?
And the reply from the Consular, Passport and Visa (CPV) Division of the MEA, which is the authority responsible for issuing passports and ICs, was in part:
It may be noted that as per the provisions of Rule 13 of Passport Rules, 1980, a person at a certain point of time may not hold two valid travel documents and he has to surrender one of the two passports/valid travel documents to the Passport Authority.
Points No.2, 3 and 4:-
As such no information is available in this office (PV.I Section) of CPV Division of MEA. Hence, no information can be provided in this regard.
The information sought by the applicant does not pertain to this office and may be obtained from the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The RTI request was sent by post on 19 May, after the online RTI submittal form failed to work. A complaint to the Department of Personnel and Training, Government of India, about the failure of the online form went unanswered.