NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court Tuesday expressed concern over thousands of illegal migrants being kept in detention centers for years in Assam without being repatriated or deported to their countries of origin.
"Don't you think some explanation is called from state government as to why these people are detained for such a long period? Many of them have been detained for last 9-10 years. What is the justification," a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
Mehta, who was appearing for the Assam government, said there was a need for evolving a mechanism for repatriating them and it should be done expeditiously. The solicitor general explained the nitty-gritty involved in dealing with the illegal migrants whose verification were done to determine their nationality before deporting them from the detention centers.
However, the bench also comprising justices L Nageswara Rao and Sanjiv Khanna raised several issues connected with the detention center and said that the detainees cannot be held for an indefinite period.
"For all these years, the living condition at the detention centers are far from satisfactory. People are detained for the last 10 years. You are unable to repatriate them," the bench said adding that "condition in the detention centre are sub-human and it is pathetic."
The bench, which agreed to the request of the solicitor general to give him two weeks' time to address the concerns raised by it, posted the matter for March 13.
In the order, the bench noted that after going through the affidavits of the Centre and the state government and the submissions made, "there was a need for judicial intervention in the matter".
It said that the Centre and the Assam government will have to come out with a clear stand on various issues by holding joint meetings with competent authorities of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of External Affairs.
The bench said there was a need for a clear stand on the issue of living conditions at the detention centres which are sub-human and there is need for "justification for long detention of people as the Assam government has itself said that some of the detainees are there for 9-10 years".
Further, it said reference has been made of push back policy as the deportation process which was prevalent till March 2013. The bench was categorical that the affidavit filed by the Assam government has not covered all the issues.
The solicitor general was responding to the January 28 queries of the apex court which 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.
He told the apex court that 938 people are lodged in six detention centres in Assam and 823 of them have been declared foreigners by tribunals. The bench was told by Mehta that both the Centre and the state have filed their affidavits providing details sought by the apex court.
The Centre said over 27,000 foreigners have been pushed back at border points while attempting to enter India illegally.
The solicitor general said the Centre has allotted Rs 47 crore and Assam has provided land for building a new detention centre with various facilities, keeping in mind issues covering human rights.
He said the new detention centre will be ready by August 31. However, when Mehta was making his submissions, the bench posed him several questions. It also said that tribunal has declared only 52,000 as foreigners and the Centre has deported only 166.
"We are concerned that how 52,000 illegal immigrants will be going to be deported. You follow the policy of pushing them from one place and they come back from another place. If the country of origin does not take them back that is also a problem. How the government of India is going to handle such problem. If you have to send them to the country of origin you cannot allow them to remain free. You have to put them at a secure place. It is alleged that they are treated as sub-human," the bench said, adding
"How can people have confidence in Assam government?"
The bench also referred to the issue of National Register of Citizens (NRC) carried by the Assam government and said 40 lakh people were not included in it. It asked does this mean they are foreigners.
The apex court further said that the problem of illegal migrants in Assam has been there for the last 50 years. "Why no steps taken to deport or repatriate them," it asked, adding that the Assam government is creating problems in all districts and since "you have been appearing in the NRC, you must be aware".
Mehta said all illegal migrants have to go and he would take instructions how to expedite repatriation.
The apex court also sought to know the condition of detention centres saying PIL alleges sub-human conditions there. The top court was hearing a PIL filed by activist Harsh Mander through advocate Prashant Bhushan on the plight of foreigners in detention centres.
The plea alleges that they are kept in detention indefinitely just because they are not Indians and are treated as "illegal aliens".
Bhushan, during the hearing, cited the report of the NHRC repertoire, of which Mander was the chief, to buttress that illegal migrants are kept in detention centres without following the rights issue and they lack even the basic facilities of recreation and parole provisions.
The bench said detention centres should have activities like chess, volleyball, carom and yoga as means of recreation.