The Supreme Court on Thursday questioned a proposal by the Assam government to quickly throw open 1,000 foreigners’ tribunals all over the northeastern State to try suspected illegal immigrants.
A Bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said it looked like the State government hatched the plan without bothering to conduct a “basic study” of how to carry it out. This, especially when the deadline for publishing the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) looming large.
“A 1,000 tribunals means a 1,000 judicial officers to preside over them. Where will you find them overnight? How many advocates above the age of 35 years would be willing to join? What is the available pool of retired judicial officers? Should the government not have foreseen this situation, considering the fact that the final NRC for the State would be published by July 31? Do we judges have to tell you everything?” Chief Justice Gogoi asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Assam government.
The CJI hinted at the possible flood of petitions which would hit the foreigners’ tribunals once the final NRC was published on July 31. These petitions would be from people who had not been able to prove their Indian citizenship. “Remember, the final list of NRC will be published in three months,” CJI Gogoi addressed the Assam side.
“We propose to have 200 tribunals immediately,” Mr. Mehta submitted.
The court, which is also examining the plight of 900-odd illegal immigrants languishing in Assam’s detention centres for years, said it was in favour of releasing them, provided that a foolproof mechanism was evolved to keep an eye on them. The court agreed with amicus curiae Prashant Bhushan’s suggestion that detenus should be released after six months or a year. Mr. Bhushan said they could be released if Indian citizens stand surety for them. “And what happens to these Indian citizens if the person they stood surety for does not turn up eventually?” the CJI asked Mr. Bhushan.
Mr. Bhushan suggested “some imprisonment”. To this, the CJI asked “under what law would we imprison these citizens?”
“Mr. Bhushan, this court has to be provided with a mechanism by which their production is assured. When you can suggest such a mechanism, we will pass the order,” the Chief Justice said.
But Mr. Mehta interjected saying opening such a window for release of illegal immigrants after six months of detention would become an “incentive for more people to infiltrate”.
“Infiltration has gone substantially high... Jail should be a deterrent,” Mr. Mehta urged.
“Then deport them... you are not doing it. Instead you keep showing us some envelopes. They are in there due to your own failure. Evolve a mechanism by which you can release them but at the same time be assured of their production when summoned by authorities,” Chief Justice Gogoi said.