New Delhi: As many as 63,959 persons have been declared foreigners in Assam from 1985 to February 2019 through ex-parte judgments by the Foreigners Tribunals functioning in the state.
Through ex-parte judgments, tribunals pronounce rulings against persons accused of doubtful citizenship without their physical presence in the courts. Many such accused have complained that they got to know about the tribunal’s order only after a border police party arrived at their door to detain them in centres meant for ‘declared foreigners’. The ex-parte judgments are passed without hearing the accused and thereby not giving a chance to the person to produce necessary documents and defend her citizenship.
Set up as quasi judicial bodies under the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964 by the Ministry of Home Affairs, there are presently a hundred tribunals operational in the state.
Following a tribunal ruling against a person’s Indian citizenship status, he/she can be taken into custody by the state border police and put in one of the six detention centres housed within district jails. Such centres became operational in the state in 2009 after the Gauhati high court asked the state government to detain those declared foreigners in the state to stop them from absconding.
On July 2, responding to an unstarred question (no. 1724) posed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, minister of state for home G. Kishen Reddy also stated in writing that as of June 26, 2019, there are 1,133 detainees in the state’s detention centres. Of those, 769 persons have been in detention for more than a year and 335 for more than three years.
On May 11, the Supreme Court, heard a petition seeking release of those detained in the centres for a longer period without any certainty of their deportation. The court asked the government to release those who have been incarcerated for more than three years on producing two Indian sureties of Rs 1 lakh each and consent to appear before the local post office every month, among other conditions. The court is still hearing the case.
Tharoor’s also asked if any legal help was provided by the government to the detainees to challenge the tribunal orders in higher courts. Reddy replied, “Free legal aid is being provided to detainees by District Legal Service Authority who are in need of it.”