Coronavirus Pandemic: Representation to CJI Seeks Release of 'Declared Foreigners'

The representation says the benefit extended to prisoners and undertrial persons should also be extended to those held in detention centres in Assam.

New Delhi: A representation submitted to Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde has sought seeks the release of ‘declared foreginers’ from the detention centres in Assam in light of the coronavirus outbreak, saying many of those held are old and ailing.

The representation was submitted by Justice and Liberty Initiative, an organization that provides legal aid to Indian nationals who have not been able to prove their citizenship during the NRC process in Assam. The organisation praised the Supreme Court’s decision to direct all states and Union Territories to release certain classes of prisoners on parole for four-six weeks to avoid overcrowding. It said similar benefit should be extended to persons “declared to be foreigners facing perpetual detention” in six detention centres in the state of Assam.

Even if they are deemed foreigners, as human beings, they also have the right to live, Justice and Liberty Initiative said, commenting that the detention centres have “despicable living conditions”. Ten people detained in these centres have died in the 12 month period between March 2019 and February 2020, the organisation noted.

In the light of the coronavirus pandemic, the detainees will be “more vulnerable in the already crowded detention centres”, the representation says.

The representation also draws the attention of the CJI to the fact that the top court has in the past ordered the conditional release of people detained in these centres. The organisation requested the Supreme Court to ensure that detainees are released following these conditions. However, since most of the detainees are poor, the condition to submit financial surety of Rs 1 lakh should be relaxed until the threat of coronavirus is overcome, Justice and Liberty Initative requested.

The representation prayed that the Supreme Court direct the Assam government to immediately release ‘declared foreigners’ in the six detention centres. The state government should also be directed not to detain anymore ‘declared foreigners’ until the health emergency in the country returns to normalcy, it says.

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The Assam government recently announced that it had postponed the process of issuing rejection slips to the more than 19 lakh people who have been excluded from the final NRC, citing the threat of the coronavirus infection. The rejection slips will mention the reason for the exclusion of the person from the register. The process of issuing the slips was scheduled to begin on March 20.

“The slips are ready but it was to be issued by local authorities in each district. However, they are busy with coronavirus preparations. Staff at NRC directorate are working from home,” a senior official told NDTV. The official also said that if the slips are issued, it will lead to people congregating at government offices, thereby increasing the chances of the virus spreading.

Assam has not yet reported any cases of the coronavirus infection, but some tourists who visited the state tested positive for COVID-19 in Bhutan. Two cases of the viral infection have been reported in the Northeast so far, one each in Manipur and Mizoram.

Representation seeking release of ‘declared foreigners’ by The Wire on Scribd