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SC examines if Overseas Citizens can represent India in sports

April 08, 2010 18:02 IST

The Supreme Court on Thursday decided to examine whether Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) have any right to represent India in international sporting events.

A Bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan while posting the matter for hearing on April 19 observed that only an Indian citizen can represent the country in international competitions.

"You have to be an Indian to participate in such events. Otherwise you have to give up your other citizenship," the Bench, which also included Justices Deepak Verma and B S Chauhan, said when the petition was mentioned.

The petition was filed by the Centre challenging the decision of Punjab and Haryana High Court which had held that Overseas Citizens of India should be accorded the same status as provided to NRIs for representing India in international sports events.

The High Court had delivered its verdict on March 18 on the petition filed by American born shooter Shoharab Singh Gill, who have been representing India.

When the Centre mentioned the appeal, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Gill, said the shooter had been a part of Indian contingent in the past but the government policy was coming in way of his future participation in events for the country.

During the brief hearing, the Bench said, "Why don't you give up your US citizenship?".

It took an assurance from Gill's counsel that when the High Court will hear the matter tomorrow he will not press the contempt petition against the Centre.

The High Court had directed the Union Sports Ministry to allow Gill, a shot gun shooter, to represent the country in international events as part of the Indian contingent.

On the issue of High Court verdict according OCI the same status as given to the NRIs, the Bench said "NRIs are given so many benefits which is another thing.

But to represent India you have to be an Indian citizen".

Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium, who mentioned the appeal, said the issue involved in the matter was not for any one case but it was the question of government policy.

He said the petition raises an important question of law as to the scope and ambit of the rights of an Overseas Citizen of India under various provisions of Citizenship Act.

Subramanium said the question is whether a person who is not an Indian national, unlike NRI, can claim any right to represent India in international sporting events contrary to the stated policy of the Government issued through its circulars on December 26, 2008 and March 12, 2009.

The Centre in its appeal said the High Court failed to appreciate that Gill was an American citizen by birth and opted to continue as US citizen even after attaining the age of majority in 2005.

It said he is not an Indian national unlike an NRI who holds an Indian Passport and merely lives abroad.

The Centre contended that the High Court erroneously equated an Overseas Citizen of India with an NRI whereas they form two entirely distinct and dissimilar classes.

Gill, son of Punjab Director-General of Police PS Gill, was born on August 19, 1987 in the United States and had to return to India at the age of one.

Thereafter, he got his education in Chandigarh and is presently a third-year student of Law in Panjab University.

The High Court had considered that since Gill was educated in India and being OCI was entitled to represent the country as per the notification issued on April 11, 2005, which had granted OCIs parity with NRIs in respect of facilities such as economic, financial and educational.

It had said since Gill was a student and sports was part of education, he was entitled to the same rights as NRIs.

However, the Centre in its appeal said the High Court was wrong in expanding the expression 'education' in the notification to include sports.

Gill, who was granted the OCI status on April 4, 2007, has represented India in junior world events and has also won two medals at the Asian Championships in Kuwait in 2007.

However, Gill was barred, along with other OCI and People of Indian Origin (PIO) sportspersons, from representing the country in international events, following orders issued by the Sports Ministry on December 26, 2008.

The new policy stated that only players who were Indian citizens could represent the country.

As Gill was not an Indian citizen, and did not hold the country's passport, he could not don Indian colours.

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