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

Assam Chief Secretary Alok Kumar orally owned up before the Supreme Court on Tuesday that the “performance” of both the State and its task force to trace illegal foreigners and deport them has been “poor” and “not satisfactory” in the past five years.

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

Mr. Kumar was responding to Chief Justice Gogoi’s queries about how out of 46,000 illegal foreigners identified in Assam from 2015-2018, the government could only manage to deport four.

“Out of 46,000, you could only find 2000. Of this, you could deport only four?” Chief Justice Gogoi asked Mr. Kumar.

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

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

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

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

“Put that also on record,” the Chief Justice 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?” Chief Justice asked.

Mr. Kumar said a 1000 more tribunals would be required to deal with the tide. He said the government has already proposed a ₹900 crore budget for setting up these tribunals. But the CJI expressed doubts about how the State would find another 1000 judges, that too, for a tenure of just three years.

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

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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