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Supreme Court asks Assam to explain delay in repatriation of Bangladeshis

According to an affidavit submitted by the state government in the Supreme Court, only 147 Bangladeshis have been repatriated since 2013, when the push back option was stopped.

india Updated: Apr 27, 2019 23:47 IST
Sadiq Naqvi
Sadiq Naqvi
Guwahati
supreme court,assam,bangladeshi
With the Supreme Court continuing its focus on the issue of illegal foreigners from Bangladesh in Assam and questioning the failure to send them back, state government officials have admitted that repatriation is easier said than done.(Amal KS/HT PHOTO)

With the Supreme Court continuing its focus on the issue of illegal foreigners from Bangladesh in Assam and questioning the failure to send them back, state government officials have admitted that repatriation is easier said than done.

“It is done under the international law. The host country has to accept them, the address has to be verified,” said Ashutosh Agnihotri, Commissioner and Secretary, Home and Political department, Assam, two days after the Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi asked the Assam government to file an additional affidavit, trashing its stand on the release of those in detention and questioning why they have not been deported.

“More than 90% of the people in detention who have been declared as foreigners have not divulged their addresses in Bangladesh. How does one send them back without the address,” said a top state government official familiar with the details.

An official document from 2018 reviewed by Hindustan Times shows that a majority of those in detention after they were ruled to be from Bangladesh in the opinion of the foreigners’ tribunal (FT) have their addresses in Assam in the records.

According to an affidavit submitted by the state government in the Supreme Court, only 147 Bangladeshis have been repatriated since 2013, when the push back option was stopped. This included just four declared as foreigners in the opinion of the 100 foreigners tribunals in the state. Repatriation is done through the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of External Affairs.

As of last week, there were 818 persons in detention in the six detention centres in the state which run out of jails. This included around 124 people who have been convicted by the district courts under the Foreigners Act of 1946 while the rest included the ones declared foreigners by the FTs.

In contrast, the number of those declared as foreigners by the FTs has been increasing every year. From 3531 declared as foreigners in 2009, the number has gone up to 5096 in 2016, 15441 in 2017 and 13558 in the first eight months of 2018 taking the total to 58627 in the last decade, including a sizeable number of those who were declared as a foreigner ex parte.

The number could go up once the final list of the National Register of Citizens comes out in July. Those out of the list could approach one of the 100 foreigners’ tribunals to prove their Indian citizenship. The draft NRC left 40,07,707 names out of the list.

On Thursday, a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi took the state government to task again hearing a petition by activist Harsh Mander.

“The stand of the Government of India and the state of Assam should be that foreigners detenues should be deported as soon as possible. But we do not see that stand Mr Chief Secretary,” Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said as quoted by a newspaper.

He was reacting to the state government’s affidavit which proposed conditional release of those who have been in detention for more than five years. The affidavit proposed monitoring of these foreigners and that they will have to submit a bond of Rs 5 lakh.

CJI Gogoi termed the proposal as both unconstitutional and illegal.

A senior state government official, however, said the proposal was submitted only after the Court’s order on April 9. The order said, “The specific response of the state government with regard to measures which could be adopted for release of detenues who are now lodged in detention centres, particularly those who have so detained for a long period will be laid before the Court by the Chief Secretary…”

This official said that a new response will be prepared before the court hears the case again on May 2.

As the conditions of detention centres spark outrage, another senior official explained that there have been proposals to release those in detention on parole or keep the elderly in detention in old age homes instead of jails.

This official explained how the idea of a “virtual detention” where the biometric and other details are available with the state government could be more practical considering the state’s jails are overcrowded and insufficient to hold more people. “This would also assuage the concerns of the human rights activists,” the official said.

Meanwhile, as both detention and repatriation appear to be difficult options, a senior state government official said the committee comprising of officials from the state and the Centre tasked to decide on the fate of those who will be out of NRC list is yet to submit its report.

First Published: Apr 27, 2019 23:46 IST