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Supreme Court pulls up Assam over migrant issue

The court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by social activist Harsh Mander on the plight of hundreds of illegal migrants living in detention centres.

india Updated: Mar 14, 2019 01:28 IST
Bhadra Sinha
Bhadra Sinha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Supreme Court,Ranjan Gogoi,Chief Justice of India
A view of the Supreme Court.(Biplov Bhuyan/HT PHOTO)

The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Centre and the Assam government to spell out what measures they have taken to tackle the problem of large-scale influx of illegal migrants into the state.

It also pulled up the state government over what it called the latter’s failure to implement orders of the Foreigners Tribunals, which determine if individuals being tried are foreigners and should be deported. The top court noted that while the tribunals have declared 58,000 migrants as foreigners, there are only 900 inmates at detention centres. The bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi termed the steps taken so far by the authorities to tackle the issue as a “joke”. The CJI also wanted to know how many tribunals are functioning and whether there was a requirement for more.

“This has gone too far. This has become a joke. We are not even being told these are the number of cases referred (to the tribunal) or declared (foreigners) by the tribunal,” the bench told solicitor general Tushar Mehta. “State of Assam is facing external aggression. We would like to know what steps Government of India had taken to meet the threat of external aggression. We want to know how you are going to tackle the problem? We do not think you are tackling the problem,” the bench also comprising justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna told Mehta who was appearing on behalf of the Centre and Assam.

The court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by social activist Harsh Mander on the plight of hundreds of illegal migrants living in detention centres. The court asked Assam government to furnish data of the past 10 years relating to: number of persons declared foreigners by the various foreigners’ tribunals; number of persons staying in the detention centres and the number of persons so far sent back to their countries of origin after being declared foreigners.

The state also has to inform the court as to whether the existing foreigners’ tribunals are adequate and specify the number of additional tribunals required immediately or near future to tackle the menace of illegal migrants. The affidavit has to be filed before March 27. Mehta said, illegal foreigners abscond to avoid deportation while the proceedings are pending before the tribunal. “We cannot detain them until the tribunal passes a final order. Meanwhile, these migrants mingle with the local population. There is great variance in the number of persons declared as foreigners and number of persons living in detention centres,” Mehta said. The top court on Wednesday said that adequate manpower should be used to complete the work of updating the National Register of Citizens in Assam by July 31.

It allowed a plea by state NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela to employ additional manpower, including data operator and information technology related personnel, to complete the work in time. Attorney general K.K. Venugopal informed the court that the Centre had agreed not to disturb the 67 companies of central forces deployed in the state and they will continue to be employed for the NRC as per court’s February 5 orders. The draft NRC published on July 30 last year excluded names of around 40 lakh people out of 3.29 applicants in Assam. The SC also agreed to examine the plea of a retired air force official declared an illegal migrant by a Foreigner Tribunal, on March 26.

First Published: Mar 14, 2019 01:28 IST