The Assam government on Monday got a rap on the knuckles by the Supreme Court over inaction in a case relating to detention of foreigners in Assam.
The bench just stopped short of issuing a non-bailable warrant against the chief secretary of
Assam though making it categorical that the Chief Secretary” shall now make himself readily available until otherwise allowed by the court”.
The Supreme Court is miffed with the state of Assam for its submission that thousands of illegal immigrants declared as foreigners by its foreigners’ tribunals have “absconded and merged with the general public”.
Reports stated that in this connection, the apex court on Monday directed the state chief Secretary to appear before it on April 8 next.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi termed the affidavit filed by the Assam government as an “exercise in futility”.
The top court has sought details vis-à-vis how many persons, who have been declared foreigners by the tribunal, have amalgamated with the local population.
“What is the number of declared foreigners who have amalgamated with the local population? This is why we wanted your Chief Secretary to remain present,” the bench also comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna said while expressing displeasure over the non-appearance of officials.
The top Assam bureaucrat has been asked to appear before the apex court on April 8 next based on a PIL filed by activist Harsh Mander on the issue.
The bench was hearing a plea on the condition of detention centres in Assam and the prolonged detention of foreigners in these centres.
“You are saying that the declared foreigners have gone untraceable? How do you intend to identify them and deport them? And what would be the situation as to those against whom the proceedings are pending?” inquired the Chief Justice.
“The state government is just playing with the court! Your affidavits are futile,” remarked a visibly upset Chief Justice.
On March 13 last, the court had come down heavily on the Assam government, directing it to reveal the number of persons declared as foreigners by the Tribunals ever since their reconstitution in 2005, the number of persons held in custody in detention centres and the number of persons sent back to their countries of origin-
“This has gone too far! This has become a joke! We are not even told that this is the total number of foreigners who have been detected! You say they mingle with the public and are not traceable, so there must be an ex-parte order? Against 60,000 cases, you have 800 people (in detention centres)?!…How long are these cases pending? How are these people manning the tribunals? How are they doing this job? Who are the presiding officers – How many are advocates, how many are retired judicial officers… How many tribunals are felt necessary by the state?” Chief Justice Gogoi had rebuked.
The petition submits that in the absence of a formal agreement between the government of India and the government of Bangladesh on deportation and repatriation of declared foreigners who are identified by Foreigners Tribunals as Bangladeshis and kept in detention, their incarceration is indefinite, arbitrary and violative of Articles 14 and 21.
The petition is primarily based on the findings of “deplorable conditions” in such centres, as recorded in the report prepared for the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) by Mander himself.
The report also highlights various rights violations of detainees, including their right to health, education, family unity, work and recreation and access to legal services.
The petition further points out that while on one hand, the government has wide powers of deportation under the law, on the other hand, there are no clear procedures in place for ascertaining nationality of suspected “illegal immigrants” and their subsequent deportation to the country of confirmed nationality.