Hell, not detention centre: Assam ‘foreigner’ after PM remark

Mohammed Sanaullah.

Mohammed Sanaullah.

Mohammed Sanaullah, a Guwahati-based retired Army officer, smiled wryly as he watched Prime Minister Narendra Modi's televised speech at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi on Sunday.

His “ears laughed” when Mr. Modi said: “ Koi desh ke Musalmano ko na detention centre may bheja ja raha hai, na Hindustan may koi detention centre hai (No Indian Muslims are being sent to detention centres and neither are there any detention centres in this country).”

The Gauhati High Court had on June 8 released Mr. Sanaullah on bail from Goalpara central jail, one of six in Assam that also serve as detention centres for people declared non-citizens by 100 functional Foreigners’ Tribunals (FTs). He was lodged in the Goalpara centre on May 28.

“So what is that place where I spent 11 horrific days called? If I had not been sent to a detention centre by the State machinery, maybe I am not a Muslim too,” he told The Hindu .


About 40 km west in Khopanikuchi, sexagenarian Rehat Ali was equally amused. “The PM is right. It is actually hell, not a detention centre,” he said.

Mr. Ali was released on May 13 after the Gauhati High Court declared him an Indian, not a foreigner as an FT had marked him more than three years ago. “It now seems my father was sent on a picnic to enjoy life,” his son Lukman said.

The family of Dulal Paul, who died of health complications on October 13 after spending two years at the Tezpur detention centre, said the denial of such centres ridiculed his death. “If there are no detention centres, my father was not sent to one after being declared a foreigner. In that case, the government should bring him back to life,” one of his three sons said.

The family had refused to accept Mr. Paul’s body for a week, putting the Sarbananda Sonowal government in a spot. Their contention was that since he was marked a foreigner, the government should send his body to whichever country it thought he had come from.

On Assembly record

Assam’s Parliamentary Affairs Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary had on November 30 provided data on the number of detention centres in the State and how many declared foreigners they housed. This was two days after Union minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai said in Parliament that there were 1,043 foreigners — 1,025 Bangladeshis and 18 Myanmarese — across Assam’s six detention centres.

These centres are at Dibrugarh, Goalpara, Jorhat, Kokrajhar, Silchar and Tezpur.

Assam has six detention centres inDibrugarh, Goalpara, Jorhat, Kokrajhar, Silchar and Tezpur.

Assam has six detention centres inDibrugarh, Goalpara, Jorhat, Kokrajhar, Silchar and Tezpur.


Replying to a question, Mr. Patowary said the six centres had 988 declared foreigners till November 20 while 935 others had been released after court orders or in keeping with the Supreme Court’s directive to conditionally set free the inmates who completed three years of detention.

Mr. Patowary also said 28 people died in the detention centres since 2016.

The data included expenditure of ₹4.74 crore on the “foreigners” at the six detention centres since 2010 and an outline of the work on an exclusive detention centre at Matia in Goalpara district. This centre, estimated to cost ₹46.51 crore, would hold some 3,000 inmates.

With MHA approval

The detention centres are run by Assam’s Home Department with approval from the Ministry of Home Affairs. The government has sought the MHA’s clearance for up to 10 detention centres, but the clearance is pending.

Released declared foreigners said four-five rooms within the central jails serve as detention centres. “Each room is crammed with 50-60 people. Even the worst of enemies should not be sent there,” Mr. Ali said.

But these centres are not new. They were set up years after the Assam Police Border Organisation — it has a River Police wing — was formed in 1962 under the Prevention of Infiltration of Pakistanis scheme.

The Border police refers suspected foreigners to the quasi-judicial FTs whose members — retired judges and gazetted officers with judicial experience and lawyers with certain years of practice — decide whether or not they are Indian citizens.

Assam initially had 11 Illegal Migrant Determination Tribunals (IMDTs) that became FTs after the Supreme Court had in July 2005 scrapped the IMDT Act that was said to have been loaded in favour of illegal migrants. That year, 21 FTs were established.

Four more came up in 2009 and 64 in 2014 to take the total number of FTs to 100. In June, the Centre had agreed to help Assam set up 1,000 new FTs apparently to deal with the 19.06 lakh people excluded from the updated National Register of Citizens.

The government has appointed 221 new members for the 100 functional and 200 new FTs.

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Printable version | May 24, 2022 5:39:58 pm |