SC asks Assam ways for releasing foreign detenues

SC asks Assam ways for releasing foreign detenues

The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Assam government to apprise it of "ways and means" that can be adopted to release illegal foreigners languishing in the state's detention centres for almost a decade.

Hearing a PIL filed by activist Harsh Mander, through advocate Prashant Bhushan, on the plight of foreign detenues, the court also took note of the state's submissions that the court's "loaded observations" during the hearing of the case may impact Lok Sabha polls in Assam.

It will now be heard on April 25.

A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna decided to hear the matter after April 23, when the three-phase polls in the state conclude.

The plea has alleged that prisoners are kept in detention indefinitely because they are not Indians and are treated as "illegal aliens".

The apex court asked the Assam government to consult authorities and file an affidavit on or before April 23, giving details of "ways and means" for releasing over 900 illegal foreigners who are languishing in six detention centres in the state for nearly a decade.

It appointed senior appointed Gaurav Bannerjee as amicus curiae to assist it on the issue of identification and tracing illegal foreigners and their deportation to their country of origin.

The bench rejected Bhushan's submission that Bannerjee be asked to visit the detention centres and submit a report on the living condition there.

During the hearing, the bench virtually grilled Assam Chief Secretary Alok Kumar on not being able to identify and trace the declared foreigners, who have now mingled with the public.

"There were 46,000 declared foreigners in Assam in 2015 but by 2019 only over 2000 are in detention centres and four have been deported to their home land. Where have these foreigners gone? They are not entitled to be here. What efforts have you taken to trace them?," the bench asked Kumar.

Kumar conceded that the state government has not been able to trace them satisfactorily.

The bench asked Kumar to file an affidavit stating that the state government's track record in tracing foreigners is "not satisfactory" and the performance of a task force to identify the foreigners has been poor.

The bench then asked Kumar what arrangement does the state government has made to check the problem, especially after Assam National Register of Citizens (NRC)'s final draft list was published on July 31 last year.

"Tell us what arrangement have you made till now. We are told that out of around 40 lakh people not included in the draft NRC list, 38 lakh have filed the claims. How many tribunals will you be needing to check the inflow of claims to be adjudicated after the final NRC list is published," the bench asked the chief secretary.

Kumar replied they were making arrangements and around 1,000 foreigners tribunals will be created to address the claims.

He said the state government has written to the Ministry of Home Affairs, seeking permission for setting of 1,000 foreigners tribunals and it has also been written to Gauhati High Court to speed up the process of recruiting persons who will preside over such tribunals.

"Where will you find the judges who would preside over the tribunals. It will be a contractual post with a fixed tenure of two-three years. Which lawyer or person is going to join the tribunal for two-three years," the bench asked.

The chief secretary replied that retired government servants, who are fit and willing to take up the job, can be roped in by relaxing the age limit provided they have past experience of working at a quasi-judicial body.

The bench initially noted that the state had in 1980 identified 1,12,000 illegal foreigners, the number of whom came down to 65,000 in 2010 and reduced further to 46,000 in 2015.

Out of the 46,000, it said, only around 2000 were lodged in detention centres and the whereabouts of 44,000 were not known.

The top court on April 1 had expressed unhappiness over declared foreign nationals absconding and amalgamating with local population in Assam, and had summoned the state's chief secretary.