It’s a citizenship labyrinth for Goans. Ever since Goa’s liberation from the Portuguese in 1961, Goa's residents have faced confusion over their citizenship despite various laws and orders being in place.
Both countries – India and Portugal – have opened their arms to embrace the people of Goa through their liberal policies and rules. This has brought them to a place of utter chaos and cacophony over their citizenship today.
Late last year, the revocation of over 70 Indian passports of Goans, who had registered their birth in Portugal, created a furore in the media. In one stroke, the Regional Passport Office (RPO) in Goa rendered these Goans ‘illegal’ residents in the country.
Revocation of their Indian passports altered their status in India: they would now be deemed as persons without valid visa or entry permit – an Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) card or any other such document – in the country.
This would have serious implications, like their entries in the electoral rolls could be questioned.
Among many other such impacts on their day-to-day living, one would be that their regular bank account would be converted to non-resident-external (NRE) account. This account is operated with foreign currency. One cannot deposit Indian currency in it unless there is an asset sale.
This could prove a major niggle for those employed here and are earning their salary in Indian currency. They would no longer be able to receive their salaries in their bank account.
Just being employed in India would require them to have a work visa.
Goa’s citizenship question is a lot like the difficult query of ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg?'
Here, the question is -- does registration of birth by Goans in Portugal automatically confer Portuguese citizenship to them? Or does it happen when they are issued the Cartao de Cidadao (CC) or when they migrate to the European country or acquire a Portuguese passport?
It’s a minefield of legal interpretations through which the people of Goa are learning to tiptoe, every now and then, stepping on explosives. For them, the decision to take up Indian or Portuguese citizenship is a hard one; both are equally luring.
Goans with Portuguese ancestry are eligible for citizenship through family connections. A Portugal citizenship gives them the right to live, work and study in European Commission (EC) countries without a visa and avail of their healthcare and other social incentives.
On the other hand, Goans are tied down by their ancestral homes and family bonds in India.
Enticed by the easy process of Portuguese citizenship, most Goans have registered their births in Portugal, and left it at that. They believe they have left an exit door open for themselves and their children.
Meanwhile, they have continued to live as Indian citizens in Goa with an Indian passport -- never doubting their belief that birth registration doesn’t, by default, translate into citizenship and may be questioned by authorities.
This conundrum has its origin in the misinformation on Portuguese citizenship that had swept the state during the period of boom in surrendering of Indian passports by Goans.
There was an abnormal rise in the number of Indian passports surrendered by Goans in 2012 and 2013, when it had jumped to 11,492 and 23,511 respectively.
It settled back to a normal number of between 2,000 and 4,000 after that.
A curious letter – dated November 6, 2014 – written by the then commissioner for NRI affairs, late Wilfred Menezes Mesquita, to the Ramachandran Swaminathan, special secretary – Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) – further cemented the belief that birth registration in Portugal cannot be interpreted as citizenship of that country.
“Not every Goan born before Liberation become(s) a Portuguese citizen by default and that his/her registration of birth in Portugal, as per the existing Portuguese law, will entitle the said person to possess Cartao de Cidaddao,” Mesquita wrote to the MEA bureaucrat.
He further clarified that it was only the CC that made an “applicant a Portuguese citizen.”
He added, “This clearly implies that registration of birth is just the beginning process to obtain Portuguese citizenship through Cartao de Cidadao and registration of birth by itself in no way gives the applicant the right to be a Portuguese citizen.”
In the same written correspondence, he terms the Portuguese passport as a travel document facilitating travel to Portugal. This defense of Mesquita held for long, but is now being busted and legally challenged by various authorities.
The Indian Constitution very clearly states that a person who acquires nationality of another country ceases to be an Indian national.
Even the Goa, Daman and Diu (Citizenship) Order, 1962 or Rule 40 of the Citizenship Rules, 2009 and Schedule III thereunder do not recognize dual citizenship.
In the light of recent developments, Goans are looking for new solutions to this crisis of identity or citizenship that has hit them.
Carlos Alvares Ferreira – MLA from Aldona constituency – wants to bring a resolution on the issue in the forthcoming State Assembly session wherein he will request the Central government to allow Goans to acquire dual citizenship.
Until the right answer to this difficult citizenship question is found, Goans whose passports are being revoked will be caught in the muddled zone of citizenship.