The Assam government has decided not to extend the term of members who were appointed for 200 additional Foreigners’ Tribunals (FT) that were set up primarily to handle cases related to the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
A Foreigners’ Tribunal or FT is a quasi-judicial body and a member is a designation similar to a judge. Practising lawyers and retired civil servants and judicial officers were appointed as members for the additional FTs soon after the complete draft NRC was published in August 2019, leaving out 19.06 of some 3.3 lakh applicants.
Assam has had 100 regular FTs since 2009 to try the cases of suspected foreigners referred by the Border wing of the Assam police.
A case pertaining to the tenure of the FT members came up for hearing in the Gauhati High Court on Thursday. The State government did not give any written submission, but its counsel told the court that the Political (B) Department has decided not to extend the tenure of the members for the additional FTs. The annual term of the 200 members expired on September 22.
The decision has put a cloud on the NRC exercise, which has not progressed to the next phase – issuing each of the 19.06 lakh “excluded” people a rejection slip, containing the reasons for his or her exclusion, for appealing to the new FTs within 120 days of receiving the slip.
The NRC exercise, which most more than ₹1,600-crore, was paused due to petitions filed in the Supreme Court seeking the re-verification of the list of citizens in view of “major irregularities” allowing “people of suspect nationality” be counted as Indians.
The Assam government had appointed 221 new members but 19 of the either did not join or resigned soon after their appointment in September 2019 while vacancies in the existing 100 FTs were filled up with 23 others.
“As the new FTs are not functional, the remaining 179 members were attached to the existing FTs during their term,” an officer of Assam’s Home Department said, adding that their monthly pay of ₹89,000 each was stretching the State exchequer.
The decision to not extend the service of the FT members is likely to close the doors on the appointment of some 1,600 Ministerial staff who were selected to serve in the additional 200 FTs. A case filed by 238 of these selected candidates is scheduled for hearing in the high court on October 14.