The Supreme Court Wednesday pulled up the Centre and the Assam government over the functioning of foreigners tribunals and the problem of "external aggression" faced by the state due to the influx of illegal migrants. "It has become a joke now. The situation has gone too far," the top court observed and told the Assam government that it was not been able to deport the illegal migrants to the country of their origin.
A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna questioned the Assam government whether the foreigners' tribunals and the law-enforcing authorities are functioning properly. "It has become a joke now. We must say that the situation has gone too far. You have not done anything. The foreigners' tribunals have identified 56,697 persons as foreigners and yet only around 900 persons are in detention centres," the bench said.
Referring to the 2005 verdict in the IMDT case filed by Sarbananda Sonowal, the incumbent chief minister of Assam, the bench said it was held that Assam was facing the threat of "external aggression" because of large scale influx of immigrants. "We would like to know from the government of India and government of Assam about what is being done about this threat," it asked.
Not satisfied with the replies of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Assam government on the issue of functioning of foreigners tribunals, the bench said it would summon the chief secretary and the home secretary of the state to explain the situation. "We are not even told who are the foreigners or who were detected or suspected to be foreigners. Who are the presiding officers in the foreigners' tribunals and how many foreigners tribunals are functioning properly in the state," the bench asked.
Mehta said that the affidavit with all the queries of the bench will be filed in the course of the day and urged the court to hear the matter on Thursday or any other day. He said that 150 people who have come to India on valid documents need to be deported while 823 people who are mostly illegal immigrants are detained in six detention centres of the state.
The bench asked Mehta to inform it about how many immigrants have been declared as foreigners by the tribunal and where are those persons. The solicitor general replied in past ten years 56,697 people were declared as foreigners and only 823 people are living in detention centres.
"Most of the persons against whom proceedings get initiated in the foreigners' tribunal try to abscond and mingle with the crowd. Under the law they cannot be detained with the start of proceedings and can only be detained after the award from the tribunal," he said. Mehta said that it is only for this reason that most of the award from the tribunal is exparte and explains the huge difference between the award and persons in detention centres.
The submission of Mehta further annoyed the bench which questioned whether the law enforcing machinery and the foreigners' tribunal is working properly. The bench asked him as of how many detention centres are working and how many people are being kept in such centres.
Mehta said that around 900 people who have entered the country illegally or whose term have expired and declared as foreigners are kept in six detention centres of the state which are connected with the district jails. "You are unable to deal with the situation. You have to explain everything as how the detention centres are functioning and in what conditions. Where are the foreigners' tribunals located and how are they functioning. Are they adequate? Is the order of tribunal enforceable? What is the number of illegal foreigners," the bench asked.
The top court said, "It is evident from the record as for how sincerely the government of Assam is dealing with the issue and how it plans to go further. It seems nobody is bothered. We want everything in detail." It said that for the present the court is not insisting on the personal presence of Assam chief secretary but the state government should file a detailed affidavit during the course of the day explaining everything.
The apex court was hearing a PIL filed by activist Harsh Mander through advocate Prashant Bhushan on the plight of foreigners in detention centres. It posted the matter for further hearing on March 27.
The court had earlier expressed concern over thousands of illegal migrants being kept in detention centres for years in Assam without being repatriated or deported to their countries of origin. It had raised several issues connected with the detention centre and said the detainees could not be held for an indefinite period.
On January 28, the apex court had asked the Centre and the state to provide details of functional detention centres in Assam and the foreigners detained in them during the last 10 years. The Centre had said over 27,000 foreigners have been pushed back at border points while attempting to enter India illegally.
(With inputs from agencies.)