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Efforts to trace, deport illegal foreigners in Assam have been poor, unsatisfactory: State Chief Secretary tells SC

Chief Secretary of Assam Alok Kumar leaves the Supreme Court after a hearing on the Assam NRC case, in New Delhi on April 8, 2019.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Assam Chief Secretary Alok Kumar admitted to the Supreme Court on Tuesday that the “performance” of the State government and its task force to trace illegal foreigners and deport them had been “poor” and “not satisfactory” over the past five years.

“Put that on record,” Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, leading a three-judge Bench, told Mr. Kumar.

Mr. Kumar’s admission was in response to Chief Justice Gogoi’s queries about how the State had managed to deport only four out of 46,000 illegal foreigners identified in Assam between 2015 and 2018.

“Out of 46,000, you could only find 2,000; of this, you could deport only four?” Justice Gogoi asked Mr. Kumar.

When Mr. Kumar tried to explain, Justice Gogoi interjected and asked, “Is your government being run in accordance with the Constitution?”

“Performance [to trace illegal foreigners in the State] in the last five years has been poor,” Mr. Kumar acknowledged.

“Put that on record,” the Chief Justice said.

“The performance of the task force to identify them is also not satisfactory,” Mr. Kumar added.

“Put that also on record,” Justice Gogoi reacted.

The CJI then referred to how 38 lakh of the 40 lakh people excluded from the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam have filed citizenship claims.

“If they fail in their claims, they will immediately file complaints with the Foreigners Tribunals in Assam. Do you know how many tribunals would be required to deal with such a large number of complaints?” Justice Gogoi asked.

Observing that a 1,000 more tribunals would be required to deal with the tide, Mr. Kumar said the State had already proposed a ₹900-crore budget for setting up these tribunals.

The Chief Justice, however, said he was sceptical about how the State would find another 1,000 judges, that too, for a tenure appointment of just three years.

“Which good advocate would leave his practice and come for a three-year term as a tribunal judge?” Justice Gogoi wondered.

The court further directed the Chief Secretary to file an affidavit before April 25 suggesting measures for release of detenuees languishing in Assam’s detention centres for years.

“They cannot be released like how domestic criminals are released,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted.

“These (detention centres) are not places anyone would like to be. There are about 915 detainees, how long will they continue to be in custody?” CJI asked.

The court however did not find it necessary to send an advocate as amicus curiae to check on the living conditions of the detainees. “We know their living conditions are bad,” Chief Justice Gogoi said.

In the previous hearing, Mr. Mehta had briefed the court that the “push-back” policy was dropped in 2013 and nowadays diplomatic channels were employed to determine the nationality of an illegal foreigner and to deport the person. A Ministry of Home Affairs affidavit had said how the Assistant High Commissioner of Bangladesh visited detention centres to talk to detainees. If their information is proved correct, they are expeditiously issued travel documents.

The court is hearing a petition filed by activist Harsh Mander about the dismal living conditions within the four walls of the detention centres in the State. The court noticed that many detainees continue to be lodged inside these centres even after the expiry of their term of im​prisonment for illegally entering the country.

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