There is widespread anxiety in Assam these days, and it has to do with two key issues; difficulties in releasing inmates who have completed three years in captivity, and the delay in issuing rejection order copies that can help those who have been left out of the final National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Delays in releasing inmates from detention camps
In May 2019, the Supreme Court had paved the way for conditional release of people who had completed three years in detention camps. The SC has laid down a few guidelines for the release of detainees. These are as follows:
(a) Execution of bond with two sureties of Rs.1,00,000/- (Rupees one lakh only) each of Indian citizens;
(b) He or she specifies verifiable address of stay after release;
(c) Biometric of his/her iris (if possible) and all ten fingerprints and photos shall be captured and stored in a secured database before release from the detention centres. He or she shall report once every week to the Police Station specified by the Foreigners Tribunal;
(d) He or she shall notify any change of his or her address to the specified Police Station on the same day, and
(e) A quarterly report to be submitted by the Superintendent of Police (Border) to the Foreigners Tribunal regarding appearance of such released declared foreigner to concerned Police Station and in case of violation of condition, the DFN will be apprehended and produced before Foreigners Tribunal.
However, as per a recent submission made by amicus curiae before the Supreme Court, many inmates are unable to meet these “onerous conditions”. Bhushan says, “Many of those who are detained are very poor and hence have been struggling to furnish the two sureties of one lakh each.” He recommends a reduction in the amount saying, “Reducing the surety from two to one and reducing the amount from one lakh to twenty five thousand will enable these poor detainees to better meet the requirements for their release.”
Bhushan also showcases the plight of daily wage earners living in far-flung villages in meeting the requirement for weekly police station visits saying, “Further, the condition of reporting to a police station once a week is a very onerous one, for many of these people live in far off riverine islands and away from local police stations. The geography of these char islands, combined with the nature of the work that these families undertake, which is largely daily wage labour, makes it cumbersome and often impossible to report to the police station weekly. Those who manage to do so have to spend often more than a whole day with a loss of their daily income besides a substantial amount that is spent in travel.” Bhushan recommends that the requirement of reporting to the police station could be reduced to once a month from one week as presently ordered.
He quotes the response of the Ministry of Home Affairs to a question raised by Congress Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor saying, “In July 2019 by unstarred question no. 1724 in the Lok Sabha, Dr. Shahi Tharoor posed some very important questions to the Minster of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs regarding the detention centres in Assam. In response the Minister of State, Home Affairs states that there are 1133 persons held in 6 detention centres across the State of Assam. While 769 persons have been in detention for more than one year, 335 persons have been held in detention for more than three years. Besides this, 63959 persons have been declared foreigners through ex-parte proceedings by Foreigners Tribunals in Assam from 1985-February 2019.”
Bhushan also highlights the difficulty in deportation of inmates in the absence of any treaty with their alleged home countries and recommends setting such people free if they have completed one year in detention. He says, “Currently there are several hundred people still in detention centres in Assam, who have been there for more than a year. The fact is that they are likely to be detained indefinitely since there is no prospect of their being deported in the absence of any agreement for repatriation between India and other foreign country including Bangladesh. Hence it is recommended that if the detainees have completed one year in detention they should be released forthwith.”
Inmate’s family threatens to go on hunger strike
This submission comes close at the heels of the family of one Asgar Ali threatening to go on hunger strike. 54-year-old Asgar Ali was declared foreigner after being designated a doubtful voter. His father had changed his name and Asgar could not provide any evidence of the name change other than an affidavit to the effect. He had also submitted a copy of his father’s voter ID, but the foreigners’ tribunal deemed it to be invalid. Asgar has been lodged at the Goalpara detention camp since July 14, 2017 and will become eligible for release in July 2020. His brother Arshad and nephew Zishan now plan to go on a hunger strike demanding his release. Arshad told News 18, “My mother and father are crying every day for his release. Both are not well and worried about Asgar.” Highlighting how the unlettered bear the worst brunt of bureaucratic hurdles, he said, “Sir, actually we became the victim of illiteracy. Till Asgar’s detention, we were not even aware that our house false under South 24-Parganas district and not Kolkata.”
Delay in issuing rejection order copies
People whose names have not been included in the NRC can only move ahead with the process of appeals after getting the reason for rejection by the officer who conducted the claims hearing. This spoken order of said officer has to be attached to the rejection slip. However, though the final NRC was published on August 31, 2019 and the claims and objections process had been completed before that, rejection slips are being issued at snail’s pace.
NRC State Coordinator Hitesh Dev Sarma recently tried to explain away the delay as a bureaucratic hiccup. He told Assam Tribune that issuing the rejection slips to the people whose names were not included in the final NRC was a long process as the orders of the officers engaged to dispose of the claims and objections would have to be attached with the rejection slips. He said that to do so, all such orders would have to be scanned. However, he hoped that the process of issuing rejection slips would start within a month.