Illegal immigrants should not languish for long in detention centres in Assam, instead they should be repatriated or deported expeditiously, the Supreme Court and the Centre agreed on Tuesday.
The Centre assured the court that it would hold consultations with the Assam government on a scheme to expedite the process of deportation or repatriation of illegal foreigners and report back to the Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on March 13.
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 imprisonment for illegally entering the country.
“The petition says the conditions are pathetic, even inhuman. The detention should only be for a minimum time… For all these years, these centres were virtual jails,” Chief Justice Gogoi orally observed in the hearing.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that detention centres have a variety of recreational activities, including chess, carrom and T.V. programmes. Mr. Mehta said he has visited.
“With advance notice… they would have rolled out the red carpet,” Chief Justice responded dryly.
The Bench referred to the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) list for Assam, which had exempted 40 lakh people. On the other hand, the Foreigner Tribunals have only been able to identify 52,000 illegal foreigners. “How do you expect people to have confidence in the government when you have acted like this for the past 50 years… you have not done anything,” the Chief Justice addressed Mr. Mehta.
Referring to statistics that about 29,000 illegal immigrants have been “pushed back”, the CJI asked the government whether “pushing back was an effective way of deportation.”
“Of 52,000, how many have you actually deported?” the CJI asked the government at one point.
Mr. Mehta repeatedly assured that steps would be taken to expedite the process for deportation or repatriation of illegal immigrants rather than have them spend years in detention centres.
Mr. Mander had compared the situation of families languishing in Assam’s detention centres with the family separation policy imposed on illegal immigrants in the U.S. by the Trump administration.
The Bench had sought responses from the Centre and Assam government on the plight of families, who languish in the State’s six detention centres as “declared foreigners”, separated from each other and their children.
The petition, whose contents was inspired from a report submitted by Mr. Mander as Minorities Monitor for the National Human Rights Commission, primarily conveyed the helplessness of children who were just over six years old, separated from their parents who are held inside these detention centres.