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NRI Woman Mistakenly Arrested By Indian Authorities Wins Compensation

Fourteen months after Sarah Thomas, a multinational company employee from Dubai, was mistaken for a fugitive wanted by the CBI and arrested by immigration officials and police at Chennai airport, the Madras high court recently awarded Rs 2 lakh compensation to her.

CHENNAI – Fourteen months after Sarah Thomas, a multinational company employee from Dubai, was mistaken for a fugitive wanted by the CBI and arrested by immigration officials and police at Chennai airport, the Madras high court recently awarded Rs 2 lakh compensation to her.

However, since the unsuspecting victim of the faux pas told the court that she was not interested in the compensation amount, state and central government must pay Rs 1 lakh each to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister’s Flood Relief Fund, said a bench comprising Justice S Tamilvanan and Justice C T Selvam on Tuesday.

On October 29, 2014, Sarah Thomas landed at Chennai airport from Dubai to attend a colleague’s wedding scheduled the next day in Madurai.

She was detained by immigration officials and placed under arrest on the ground that she was Sara Williams Saramma Thomas alias Saramma Thomas who was facing a CBI case and against whom a lookout circular (LOC) was pending.

She was lodged in Central Prison at Puzhal and taken to Kerala by a team from the state. It was only on November 2, 2014 that the mistake dawned on the Kerala police.

Her son, Kevin John Sajith, an engineering student in Chennai, filed the present habeas corpus petition in the high court.

On Tuesday, the bench said: “We are of the view that it is a harassment, causing grave mental agony to an innocent person. The reasons assigned by officials that the mistaken identity was on account of bona fide reasons could not be accepted. There is a gross negligence on the part of authorities in sending Sarah Thomas to Central Prison, Puzhal, and then taking her to Kerala. We are of the view that there is a

While N Anand Venkatesh, counsel appearing for her son, said there was infringement of fundamental rights and the lady was subjected to humiliation by way of illegal arrest and detention, additional solicitor-general of India G Rajagopalan said Sarah Thomas’s name was similar to that of the Sara William, and that her year birth and native place in Kerala too tallied with the fugitive woman. There were similarities in the photographs as well, he said.

Rejecting all the submissions, the judges said while Rs 1 lakh would be paid by the external affairs ministry, another Rs 1 lakh would be paid by the government of Tamil Nadu.

As for a request by Sarah Thomas to frame a system to prevent recurrence, the court framed a set of guidelines which said authorities should carefully verify genuineness of documents such as passport and visa, and photos should be carefully compared to the passenger available.

In case of serious doubt about the identity of a passenger, authorities must file a detailed report and should not send them to jail straightaway. If any person is sent to prison unreasonably, officials concerned should be made responsible and appropriate proceedings should be taken against them.

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