Retd soldier detained for being a ‘foreigner’ in Assam last month gets bail
The Gauhati high court granted interim bail on Friday to a retired Indian Army soldier, Mohammad Sanaullah, who was declared a foreigner by a tribunal and sent to a detention camp in Assam last month.
Acting on a petition filed by his family, a division bench comprising justices Manojit Bhuyan and Prasanta Kumar Deka ordered the immediate release of Sanaullah, who is at present lodged in a detention camp in Goalpara district.
“We have heard the counsels for the parties and have also perused the materials as available. On such perusal and pending return of the notice, we are inclined to grant interim bail to the applicant Md. Sanaullah,” the court order read.
The court directed the army veteran to furnish a bail bond of R20,000 with two local sureties and directed Sanaullah to not move outside the jurisdiction of Kamrup and Kamrup (Metro) districts without the information and approval of local authorities.
“We also make it clear that prior to releasing the applicant on bail, the biometrics of the iris of both eyes, the fingerprints of both hands and photograph of the petitioner will be obtained,” the court ordered.
The court also issued notices to the Centre, the Assam government, the state coordinator for National Register of Citizens (NRC) and others, including Assam government official Chandramal Das who had prepared an inquiry report that termed Sanaullah a “foreigner”.
“Sanaullah’s school-leaving certificate, passport and discharge papers from the army clearly showed that he is an Indian by birth,” Supreme Court lawyer Indira Jaising, who represented Sanaullah, said. “I am overwhelmed with joy at the verdict. It sends a message to the community not just in Assam but across India about the strength of our judicial system,” she added
The retired soldier is expected to be let out of the detention camp on Saturday after the completion of necessary formalities. The court hasn’t quashed the earlier order of the foreigners’ tribunal that declared Sanaullah a foreigner and hearings on his petition will continue. In Assam, there are 100 such foreigners’ tribunals, a quasi-judicial body that adjudicates cases of illegal immigrants brought up by Election Commission or Assam Police officials.
“We all, including my mother, are very happy with the news about my father. But I think it will take some time for him to get released from detention camp,” said Sanaullah’s daughter Shahnaz Akhtar.
A retired subedar with the Indian Army, Sanaullah, 52, joined the force in 1987. His service discharge book notes two stints in Jammu & Kashmir and one in Manipur in the “war service showing the theatre of operation” column.
On the basis of an inquiry report by Das, Sanaullah was served a notice in 2008 to prove his citizenship. He appeared before the tribunal last year and was declared a foreigner on May 23, and sent to a detention centre in Goalpara.
But last week, after news of Sanaullah’s detention spread, Das, who has since retired, told news channels that the person whom he had described as a “labourer” born in Bangladesh in his report was not the same person who had been sent to the detention camp.
Three witnesses who were named in the 2008 inquiry report filed separate FIRs in Boko police station this week against Das, claiming that they were not present and had not signed the report that named Sanaullah as an illegal immigrant. This came amid growing outrage across the nation over declaring a former soldier as a foreigner, with many people urging the Indian Army to take up the matter.
There are at present 986 persons lodged in six detention camps across Assam. The camps are meant for persons declared foreigners by 100 tribunals, which deal with cases of people suspected to be illegal immigrants either by the border organisation or marked D (doubtful) voter in electoral rolls.