On December 22, 2010 the Delhi High Court passed a judgement (W.P.(C) 12179/2009 ) supporting the right of a Tibetan born in India to claim Indian citizenship by birth, as per the Indian Citizenship Act (CA). This may have implications on the status of other Tibetans who fall under the same category.

The Tibetan, Namgyal Dolkar, who was born in India in 1986, had contested the denial of an Indian passport to her by the Regional Passport Office in Delhi, which had said that she could not be considered an Indian citizen. She had argued her case based on the Indian Citizenship Act (CA).

The High Court said that Namgyal Dolkar “is an Indian citizen by birth in terms of Section 3(1)(a) CA.” It ruled that “She cannot therefore be denied a passport on the ground that she is not an Indian citizen in terms of Section 6(2)(a) PA.”

Section 3(1)(a) of the Citizenship Act says that every person “born in India, – (a) on or after the 26th day of January 1950, but before the 1st day of July, 1987” “Shall be a citizen of India by birth.”

The Court ruled that the RPOs argument against granting of a passport to Namgyal Dolkar was “erroneous” and asked it to start the process of granting her a passport.

The Court also said an Indian Ministry of Home Affairs’s “policy decision not to grant Indian citizenship by naturalization under Section 6(1) CA to Tibetans who entered India after March 1959 is not relevant in the instant case.” The Court seems to be making a distinction between Tibetans who have entered India and those who were born in India.

The court also said, “The holding of an identity certificate, or the Petitioner declaring, in her application for such certificate, that she is a Tibetan national, cannot in the circumstances constitute valid grounds to refuse her a passport.” To date, all Tibetans who are considered stateless are provided with a travel document called the Identity Certificate by the Indian Government.

This court ruling may impact many Tibetans who are born in India between 1950 and 1987, including on matters like property ownership or government service. The Court made it clear that such Tibetans do not even have to formally apply for Indian citizenship saying “no such application process is envisaged in Section 3(1)CA.”

We will wait to see how this plays out in the coming months. You can read the full text of the Delhi High Court ruling here.