New Delhi: The Supreme Court was irked on Thursday over an “unsatisfactory response” from the Assam government on deportation and conditional release of undocumented foreigners and cautioned the state’s chief secretary, saying that it would issue a contempt notice against him.
The top court, on April 9, had asked state’s Chief Secretary Alok Kumar to apprise it of the measures which could be adopted for release of detenues, who are now lodged in detention centres for a long period, after a “full and complete discussion with concerned authorities” of the state and the Central Government.
A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, after perusing the affidavit, was critical of the fact that out of over one lakh persons who have been declared foreigners by tribunals in Assam, only four have been deported so far and above 900 are lodged in detention centres.
“You (state government) have failed to catch illegal migrants in the state as more than one lakh foreigners are living in the state but the government has managed to detain only over 900 of them,” the bench said.
These foreigners have “mixed with the local population and they might have voted in the Lok Sabha elections. You have kept 900 people in the detention centre…this is how your government has been functioning,” the bench said.
The apex court took serious objection to the averments made in the state government’s affidavit on details of proposed conditions on which foreigners would be released and that the state government was not bound by the order of the tribunals declaring a person an illegal foreigner.
“You (Chief Secretary) have no right to remain in the office and we will issue contempt notice to you for making slanderous statement against the law and the Constitution of the country,” the bench said.
The court then asked the top officer of the state as to whether there was any meeting between the state government and the Centre on the issue.
“Yes, two meetings have taken place,” the Chief Secretary replied.
The bench then asked the officer to provide the minutes of those two meetings and got irked when the top officer said that he did not have them at the moment and other officer would come to the court with the papers.
Ask the officer to come to the court by 3 PM otherwise we would issue contempt against you, the bench cautioned.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Assam government, attempted to defend the Chief Secretary and said that he would ensure deletion of paragraphs containing some inadvertent mistakes.
“No, Mr Solicitor General. The Chief Secretary has filed the affidavit. He will have to explain the slanderous statements…
“Stop advocacy. Let us understand English. This man does not understand as to what he has done. He has signed the affidavit on dotted lines without even attempting to read as to what he was filing,” the bench said.
The Chief Secretary then tendered unconditional apology saying, “My Lords, my sincere apology for the language used in the affidavit”.
The bench asked him to sit down and asked a lawyer to give his chair to the officer.
The state government, in its affidavit, has proposed that it would set up a five-member committee headed by Additional Chief Secretary of Assam to consider petitions of detained foreigners, who have completed five years in detention centres, for their conditional release.
“The committee shall recommend conditional release on the basis of length of detention, conduct of the detenues, existence of criminal proceedings,” the affidavit said, adding that priority for conditional release would be given to old, infirm, women and children up to the age of 14 years of age.
It said that the detenues will have to furnish two Indian sureties and a bond of Rs one lakhs each as one of the conditions of release.
The undocumented immigrants will have to provide details, including biometric data and will have to report to the local police station, it said.
The bench was hearing a PIL filed by activist Harsh Mander, through advocate Prashant Bhushan, on the plight of foreign detenues in Assam.
The court adjourned the hearing saying that it was not receiving proper assistance in the case.
Earlier, the apex court had directed the Assam government to apprise it of “ways and means” that can be adopted to release illegal foreigners languishing in the state’s detention centres for almost a decade.
The PIL has alleged that prisoners are kept in detention indefinitely because they are not Indians and are treated as “illegal aliens”.
The top court on April 1 had expressed unhappiness over declared foreign nationals absconding and amalgamating with local population in Assam, and had summoned the state’s chief secretary.