BJP govt in Assam softens position on illegal Bangladeshi immigrants issue

The government had last month “humanised” the detention centres for declared foreigners (illegal Bangladeshi immigrants) by renaming them as “transit camps”.
Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma (Photo | EPS)
Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma (Photo | EPS)

GUWAHATI: As the much-talked-about National Register of Citizens (NRC) continues to be in limbo, some decisions taken by the BJP-led Assam government indicate it is softening its position on the issue of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.

Through a recent order, the Himanta Biswa Sarma government clipped the wings of the quasi-judicial Foreigners’ Tribunals which deal with the cases of suspected foreigners.

The government directed the Members of the Tribunals that the “consequential orders”, which they pass for the deletion of names of declared foreigners from the voter list and their arrest and detention, were not necessary.

The government also said that the orders passed for their deportation were not a correct approach.

Given the government directives, the role of the Tribunals will now be limited to only determining if the people that they deal with are Indians or not. The state has around 100 Tribunals and each is headed by a member (read judge).

“…In the performance assessment exercise carried out by the state Judicial Department on the basis of randomly-selected samples of opinions rendered by Learned Members of Foreigners Tribunals, the Judicial Department has viewed with seriousness the passing of consequential directions/orders by Learned Members (of Tribunals) while rendering the opinion,” the order, issued by the Political department to the Members of the Tribunals, reads.

The government had last month “humanised” the detention centres for declared foreigners (illegal Bangladeshi immigrants) by renaming them as “transit camps”.

The Assam Public Works (APW), an NGO based on whose petition the NRC was updated in the state, agreed the government has softened its stand on the issue.

“Whether Congress or BJP, every party wants this problem to remain alive. People have lost faith in the system,” APW chief Abhijit Sarma told this newspaper.

However, Advocate Fazluzzaman Mazumder of the Gauhati High Court said the government had corrected the misuse of powers by the Tribunals.

“When a reference is made to the Tribunals by the Border Police, it only seeks their opinion on whether the person is Indian or not. This has to be decided as per the provisions of the Citizenship Act of 1955,” the advocate said.

He added: “The Tribunals are not empowered by the Foreigners Act of 1946 and the Citizenship Act of 1955 to direct the state authorities to delete the name of a declared foreigner from the voter list or send the person to a detention centre or deport him/her.”

The six detention centres (now transit camps) in the state currently have 181 detenues. Of them, 61 are declared foreign nationals while the remaining 120 others, who were convicted by the court and whose period of the sentence was over, are awaiting deportation.

In deference to an order issued by the Supreme Court on May 10, 2019, altogether 273 detenues, who had spent more than three years in detention, were released on bail by the government. Subsequently, another 481 lodged in the detention centres for more than two years, were released based on separate orders issued by the Supreme Court and the Gauhati High Court in April last year.

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