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190 declared foreigners in Assam could walk free after Supreme Court order

Commissioner and secretary of Assam’s home and political department Ashutosh Agnihotri said after the necessary modalities the state government will comply with the Supreme Court’s order in spirit.

india Updated: May 14, 2019 10:09 IST
Sadiq Naqvi
Sadiq Naqvi
Hindustan Times, Guwahati
Assam,foreigners in Assam,Supreme Court
Around 190 declared foreigners in detention camps in Assam could be set free, an official said on Monday, after the Supreme Court’s order. (AFP File Photo)

Around 190 declared foreigners in detention camps in Assam could be set free, an official said on Monday, after the Supreme Court’s order on the conditional release of those who have served three years or more in such centres.

Even as the proposed move has come under criticism from local groups, including All Assam Students Union (AASU) which said it will encourage illegal immigration, the numbers in detention are swelling up after Assam police activated its task force in districts to nab the absconding declared foreigners.

“There are around 190 persons who have served three years or more in detention who are likely to be benefited,” an Assam police official involved in the process said on condition of anonymity.

Last Friday, the Supreme Court ordered the release of such people in detention if they are able to provide two sureties of Rs 1,00,000 each, verifiable address, and report to the nearest police station every week. The top court is hearing a petition on the abysmal condition of the six detention centres that run out of overcrowded jails in the state.

There are some declared foreigners, including women, who have been in detention since 2011 according to records available with Hindustan Times.

Commissioner and secretary of Assam’s home and political department Ashutosh Agnihotri said after the necessary modalities the state government will comply with the Supreme Court’s order in spirit.

The move to release the declared foreigners have not gone down well with local organisations, including AASU which led the six-year Assam agitation against foreigners. The agitation ended with the Assam Accord in 1985 which promised detection, deletion of names from voters list and deportation of foreigners.

“They should immediately take up the issue of deportation with the Bangladeshi authorities instead of releasing them,” AASU’s chief advisor Samujjal Bhattacharya said.

“If they are released it will encourage more illegal immigrants to come to Assam,” he said.

Agnihotri said matter of repatriation has already been taken up with the Union ministry of external affairs. In a recent affidavit to the Supreme Court, the state government had said it was difficult to repatriate declared foreigners as they have refused to divulge their country of origin.

Many of those who are marked suspect by Assam police’s Border Organisation or the local Election Commission of India officials and subsequently declared foreigners in one of the 100 foreigners tribunals claim they are Indians.

Out of the more than 1,00,000 persons who have been declared foreigners, only four have been repatriated to Bangladesh.

Assam police have nabbed around 160 declared foreigners from among the more than 72,000 who have been absconding as it activated its task force in districts, according to one of its official.

The proposals of reactivation of the task force to nab absconding foreigners and fast-tracking the process of repatriation came after the deliberations of a joint committee formed by the Union ministry of home affairs in March. The panel has officials from the state government and the ministry of external affairs was formed as the SC heard the petition on detention centres.

Aman Wadud, a lawyer who has been dealing with cases of declared foreigners, welcomed the Supreme Court’s order and rubbished the assertions that it will encourage illegal immigrants.

“Mostly, Indian citizens are being declared as foreigners,” Wadud claimed. “The order of the Supreme Court is welcome though even three years in detention is above the international norms,” he said.

“The border is fenced and manned. It will not encourage illegal immigrants,” he said.

First Published: May 14, 2019 10:08 IST