New Delhi: The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has released a statement urging the Supreme Court to “reaffirm India’s constitutional and international obligations to rights” on “complex issues of nationality, detention and deportation”.
The statement was released after the apex court criticised the Assam government for its proposal to end the process of indefinite detention in the state’s detention centres.
The statement, signed by the former Supreme Court Justice Madan B. Lokur, CHRI’s chair and former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, former Delhi high court Chief Justice A.P. Shah and a number of senior former officials and civil society leaders.
Expressing disappointment over the “recent statements by the Chief Justice of India on a complex matter relating to illegal detention and deportation”, the statement said that it was “unacceptable if any Indian of any religious denomination is harmed by negligence, wilful prejudice, wrongful confinement and prosecution”.
Drawing attention to “the wilful violation of the human rights of hundreds of detainees who were languishing in what the court itself accepts are inhuman conditions”, the statement pointed out that accounts in Assam indicate that “often arbitrariness not rule of law is used to define those who have come post-1971 from Bangladesh and those who are Indian nationals.”
“There is no deportation agreement with Bangladesh. International law lays down that such deportations can take place only with the consent of the country of origin” it said, adding, “We cannot place ourselves in a situation where we are seen as forcing people out at gunpoint; it would be ethically unjust, wrong in law and draw international condemnation”.
Referring to the NRC, the statement said that, “lakhs are in limbo and now fear that they may become ‘stateless’ because of a process that is mired in a mix of complexity, confusion, lack of precision and prejudice.”
Requesting the apex court to not hurry along the process, CHRI said that “the efforts need to be steady and methodical so that the charges of arbitrariness, prejudice and poor record keeping, which have plagued the NRC process, do not stick.”
The statement comes just days after the Supreme Court lambasted the Assam government’s proposal to conditionally release and monitor declared foreigners languishing in its detention centres for over five years.
On April 9, the Supreme Court had asked the Assam government to detail how it planned to release foreigners held in the state’s detention centres who had allegedly entered illegally.
The Assam government’s suggestion to consider the conditional release of foreigners in detention centres came in response to court’s April 9 order to propose measures to avoid endless incarceration of the detainees “after a full and complete discussion with the concerned authorities.”
The Supreme Court on May 2 dismissed a petition filed by activist Harsh Mander seeking recusal of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi from hearing his writ petition related to the treatment of inmates in Assam’s detention centres. After refusing to recuse himself from hearing the case, Justice Gogoi instead removed the name of Mander from the petitioner’s list and replaced him with the Supreme Court Legal Services Authority and named lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who was Mander’s counsel in the case, as the amicus curiae.
Harsh Mander, who had filed the original petition highlighting the conditions in the state’s detention centres and claimed that inmates were being held beyond their sentences, had sought the recusal of the CJI suggesting possible “bias” in the outcome of the case.