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Can overseas Indians play for India?

J. Venkatesan

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court will examine whether an overseas citizen of India can claim any right to represent the country in international sporting events on a par with its citizens.

A Bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justices Deepak Verma and B.S. Chauhan on Thursday posted the matter for hearing on April 19 after Solicitor-General Gopal Subramaniam made a mention about the Centre filing a special leave petition against a Punjab and Haryana High Court order permitting American-born shooter Shoharab Singh Gill, studying law in a college in Punjab, to represent India in international events. Son of Punjab Director-General of Police P.S. Gill, he was born on August 19, 1987 in the United States. He returned to India aged one, and since then has been studying in the State.

Mr. Subramaniam said the judgment ran counter to the policy, which prohibits non-citizens from representing India in international sporting events. The High Court erroneously expanded the meaning of ‘education' to include physical education and sports and allowed the participation of the respondent. He sought a stay on the judgment, saying a contempt petition was filed against the Centre and it was coming up for hearing on Friday.

However, senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi and counsel Satinder Singh Gulati said the student had been pursuing studies in India for the past 20 years. At this, the CJI asked: “If you are a U.S. citizen, how can you claim a right to represent India? If you want to represent India, you give up your U.S. citizenship. You can't keep U.S. citizenship and claim a right to represent India.”

Mr. Rohatgi pointed out that the respondent had represented India in four international sporting events and won two gold medals.

The Centre, in its SLP, said that as per the April 2005 government notification, overseas citizens were given parity with non-resident Indians (persons who still retain Indian citizenship but are residents abroad) only in the economic, financial and educational fields, and no right equivalent to that of citizens of India, “who alone are entitled to represent India in international sporting events.”

After the High Court's March 18 order, Shoharab Singh Gill was selected by the National Rifle Association of India to participate in the Asia Clay Shooting Championship in Bangkok. Even as the team reached the Thailand capital, a message was sent asking it to withdraw its participation because of the presence of the respondent.

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