Supreme Court seeks data on foreigners detained in Assam
The central and Assam governments were on Monday asked by the Supreme Court to provide within three weeks details of the number of people declared foreigners in the north-eastern state in the last 10 years by Foreigners Tribunals and the number deported.
The direction came from a bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi hearing a public interest litigation filed by activist Harsh Mander. The petition highlights the condition of detention centres in Assam and also the fact that inmates continue to languish there for years without any legal assistance.
In January 2018, Mander visited Assam, when he was special monitor for the National Human Rights Commission, a post he subsequently quit.
The state was asked to file an affidavit of the total number of detention centres, the inmates lodged there and the period of their detention. The court also wanted details on whether all inmates in the detention centres have been declared foreigners or whether there are also persons whose cases are pending before the FT, part-judicial bodies that decide on whether a person is a foreigner or not.
According to an official of the Border Organisation of the Assam Police, mandated to detain foreigners, there were 1,029 inmates in six detention camps across the state as on November 30, 2018.
The court observed that “if you cannot deport them to neighbouring countries, you cannot keep them in detention indefinitely”. Solicitor general Tushar Mehta submitted that inmates living in the detention centres were those who were declared foreigners. “Nobody is lodged on mere apprehension,” he said.
The court wanted the affidavits to have a yearly break-up of the number of foreigners declared by the tribunal over the last decade, and details of how cases of repatriation that failed.
Appearing for the petitioner, advocate Prashant Bhushan raised concerns on the condition of those held in these detention centres. When asked as to how many persons were living in such centres, he said he was not aware of the exact figures but that there were approximately 2,000 people.
Bhushan said the US Supreme Court had ruled in a case that such people can be detained only for a reasonable time and if they cannot be deported within such reasonable time, they must be released with any conditions that may be imposed.
Mehta said there were six detention centres and there were only about 980 people who had to be deported in these centres. He also read out the estimated break-up of the number of those who had been deported in the earlier years but said he cannot vouch for the information as he was reading out from a paper handed over to him during the hearing.
Aman Wadud, a Guwahati based human rights lawyer, said: “A foreigner can be deported only when the country of origin accept them after confirming their nationality. When Indian citizens are declared as foreigner for hyper-technical reasons (lack of documents), they can never be deported because their country of origin is India. The result is indefinite detention. And hon’ble SC rightly said they can’t be kept in detention indefinitely.”