The Supreme Court on Tuesday said illegal immigrants in Assam who have already undergone the sentence for illegal stay could not be detained again and asked the Centre and the Assam government to create a mechanism for their repatriation.
The verdict was given by the apex court bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice L Nageswara Rao and Justice Sanjiv Khanna.
Asking the Union Home Ministry and the Assam government officials to deliberate upon the issue for evolving a mechanism, the top court said don’t you think that something is called for to be done if you know a person is in the detention centre for the last 10 years, well beyond the sentence he had to serve for illegal stay in Assam.
Taking exception to conditions of the detention centre across the State, CJI Gogoi said, “Detention centre is a part of the district jail. For all these years, it was a virtual jail.” “Let them go where they want to after completing their sentence,” CJI Gogoi said.
As Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said some mechanism had to be found for addressing the issue and suggested a meeting between the MHA and the Assam government officials, counsel Prashant Bhushan suggested such detunes upon completing their sentence could be put on track as is done in the US or could be asked to report to local police station every day.
Dwelling on the detention centre’s bad conditions, Bhushan told the court the detenues are not allowed to meet friends and family members and have no access to legal assistance.
He told the court they were at the detention centre on the strength of ex parte orders of courts and have no access to legal assistance and were there since 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. He questioned whether they could be detained at the centre because the government of India was unable to reach an agreement with the neighbouring governments.
Earlier, the court questioned the Assam government’s seriousness and noted there were 40 lakh illegal immigrants in Assam, of that 52,000 were identified by the foreigners tribunals and only 166 were deported. “Of the 40 lakh illegal immigrants in Assam, your foreigners’ tribunals detected only 52,000 and out of 52,000 you were able to deport just 166.
The court was hearing a PIL by bureaucrat-turned-activist Harsh Mander who had drawn the attention of the top court towards the plight of inmates in the detention camps.
The petitioner asserted an illegal entrant gets five year’s sentence under Section 14 of the Foreigners Act, but people are lodged in the camps well beyond five years and are languishing there.