Rabi Lamichhane and dual citizenship in NepalNo constitutional provision for dual citizenship, but state offers limited citizenship rights for non-resident Nepalis.
The Supreme Court on January 27 ruled that Rastriya Swatantra Party President Rabi Lamichhane didn’t have the Nepali citizenship. The Constitutional Bench of the court also stripped him of membership of the House of Representatives, concluding that he hadn’t applied to reacquire Nepali citizenship even though he had already renounced his American citizenship. As a consequence, he also lost the position of deputy prime minister, minister for home affairs as well as the party presidency.
Two days later, Lamichhane reacquired the Nepali citizenship that was automatically scrapped after he received the American citizenship. His party reinstated him as the president hours later. The Supreme Court’s verdict clearly says Lamichanne lost Nepali citizenship once he became an American national. However, in practice, he used the legally scrapped citizenship to get Nepali passport and to contest the lower house election.
Though he has again gotten the Nepali citizenship after completing due process, there are chances that Lamichhane could be investigated for misusing the citizenship and possessing dual passports.
What are the controversies against Lamichhane?
Lamichhane in 1994 got the Nepali citizenship by descent. After practising as a media person for years, he left for the United States. In March 2014, he acquired American citizenship. As per the Citizenship Act, he automatically lost the Nepali citizenship after becoming an American citizen.
He came to Nepal in June 2014 and then in May the following year. In May 2015, he acquired a Nepali passport by using the citizenship he got in 1994, which was automatically invalidated in March 2014. Complaints were lodged at the Election Commission before the November 20 general elections that Lamichhane wasn’t a Nepali citizen. He contested and won from Chitwan-2 presenting a copy of the citizenship issued in 1994. The commission, however, took no action on the matter.
Two advocates later filed writ petitions at the Supreme Court demanding that his status as a member of the House be scrapped. The court issued the verdict as demanded by the plaintiffs. It said though Lamichhane had renounced American citizenship, he didn’t fulfil the due legal course and reacquire the Nepali citizenship.
How can a Nepali reclaim his/her citizenship?
The Citizenship Act, 2006 has set clear provisions as to how one loses Nepali citizenship and how it can be reclaimed. Section 10 of the Act says any Nepali citizen who voluntarily obtains the citizenship of a foreign country automatically loses the citizenship of Nepal.
The Act also makes it mandatory to apply for reclaiming the Nepali citizenship if one renounces his/her foreign citizenship, as per its Section 11. Upon returning to Nepal in late 2014, Lamichanne started hosting a television programme. Complaints were lodged at the Press Council saying he had been working in Nepal without a permit. After much criticism, he in May 2018 surrendered the American citizenship and its proof was submitted to the Immigration Department.
He, however, didn’t apply to reclaim his Nepali citizenship as per the regulations to the citizenship Act. In its verdict, the Supreme Court has said there was no confusion that Lamichhane had renounced his American citizenship, however, he didn’t follow the process prescribed by the regulation to reclaim the Nepali citizenship. Clause 11 of the regulations to the Act says the person who has renounced foreign citizenship should submit an application at the Ministry of Home Affairs or the District Administration Office concerned, something Lamichhane did not do.
Is this a case of dual citizenship?
Dual citizenship is illegal in Nepal. There are clear legal provisions that say the Nepali citizenship is automatically annulled if one receives a foreign citizenship. However, in practice, Lamichhane had been using both the documents, keeping the state in the dark. While he still had an American passport, he in 2015 received the Nepali passport producing the citizenship he got in 1994. After the court’s recent verdict, he has now surrendered his Nepali passport.
Does Nepal allow dual citizenship?
There is no constitutional provision for dual citizenship in Nepal. However, it envisions granting citizenship to non-resident Nepalis. Article 14 of the constitution says non-residential citizenship of Nepal can be granted to a person who has acquired citizenship of a foreign country, has resided in a country other than a member state of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, and who or whose father or mother, grandfather or grandmother was previously a citizen of Nepal by descent. Those getting the non-residential citizenship, however, do not enjoy political and administrative rights.
The amendment bill to the Citizenship Act, which was endorsed by the federal parliament but denied by President Bidya Devi Bhandari, had provisions for such citizenship. Surendra Bhandari, a senior advocate, said Nepal’s constitution doesn’t envision dual citizenship. A non-residential citizenship is more a recognition of the people of Nepali origin rather than a citizenship with full rights.
What about India?
India’s constitution also does not allow simultaneous holding of Indian citizenship with that of a foreign country. However, the Government of India grants Overseas Citizenship of India. The Indian parliament approved a bill in this connection in August, 2005. Persons of Indian origin who migrated from India and acquired citizenship of a foreign country other than Pakistan and Bangladesh are eligible for overseas citizenship so long as their home countries allow dual citizenship in some form.
Such citizenship, however, doesn’t allow the concerned person to vote or be elected to the Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha/Legislative Assembly/Council, constitutional posts such as the President, Vice-president, judge of Supreme Court/High Court. Nepal largely follows this Indian practice.
Has the Supreme Court imposed any action against Lamichhane?
The petitioners just demanded that Lamichhane be stopped from working as a lawmaker. The verdict, therefore, is limited to scrapping his status as a member of the House. Also, the hearing of cases of criminal offence starts at the district court. The Constitutional Bench has, however, opened the door for the criminal investigation against him for misuse of documents.
What cases can he face?
The lawyers who argued on behalf of the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court say Lamichhane can face legal actions over several issues. They claim he has flouted the immigration law and also the passport law.
As per section 21 of the Passport Act, one who receives or attempts to get a passport or travel documents by submitting false details can be fined Rs200,000 to half-a-million rupees and imprisoned for one to three years or both. Lawyers say he can also be booked on forgery charges. Amrit Kharel, one of such advocates, said Lamichhane can even face the charge of treason as he accessed sensitive information of the country as home minister even though he was not a Nepali citizen. If Lamichhane is found guilty, he might be barred from electoral politics for life.
Section 13 of the Act relating to the House of Representatives formation makes a person guilty of passport misuse ineligible to contest elections. There are similar provisions relating to National Assembly and provincial assembly elections.
Has a criminal investigation started against him?
No. The Metropolitan Police Range Kathmandu has received complaints that Lamichhane illegally kept dual passports. However, investigation in the case is yet to commence. “We received a complaint against Lamichhane a few days ago and are studying it,” Superintendent of Police Dinesh Mainali, also the spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police Range, told the Post.