With Assam’s National Register of Citizens as the backdrop, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has laid out specific guidelines to detect, detain and deport foreign nationals staying illegally across the country.
The MHA has amended the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964, and has empowered district magistrates in all States and Union Territories to set up tribunals to decide whether a person staying illegally in India is a foreigner or not. Earlier, the powers to constitute tribunals were vested only with the Centre.
The tribunals are quasi-judicial bodies, unique to Assam, to determine if a person staying illegally is a “foreigner” or not. In other parts, once a ‘foreigner’ has been apprehended by the police for staying illegally, he or she is produced before a local court under the Passport Act, 1920, or the Foreigners Act, 1946, with the punishment ranging three months to eight years in jail. Once the accused have served the sentence, the court orders their deportation, and they are moved to detention centres till the country of origin accepts them. The 1964 order on Constitution of Tribunals said: “The Central Government may by order, refer the question as to whether a person is not a foreigner within meaning of the Foreigners Act, 1946 (31 of 1946) to a Tribunal to be constituted for the purpose, for its opinion.” The amended order issued last week says – “for words Central Government may,’ the words ‘the Central Government or the State Government or the Union Territory administration or the District Collector or the District Magistrate may’ shall be substituted.”
Recently, the MHA sanctioned around 1,000 Tribunals to be set up in Assam in the wake of publication of the final NRC by July 31. As per directions of the Supreme Court, the Registrar General of India (RGI) published the final draft list of NRC on July 30 last year to segregate Indian citizens living in Assam from those who had illegally entered the State from Bangladesh after March 25, 1971. Nearly 40 lakh people were excluded from Assam’s final draft published last year. The NRC is a fallout of the Assam Accord, 1985. As many as 36 lakh of those excluded have filed claims against the exclusion, while four lakh residents haven’t applied.
The amended Foreigners (Tribunal) Order, 2019 also empowers individuals to approach the Tribunals. “Earlier only the State administration could move the Tribunal against a suspect, but with the final NRC about to be published and to give adequate opportunity to those not included, this has been done. If a person doesn’t find his or her name in the final list, they could move the Tribunal,” explained a senior government official.
Last month, the MHA convened a meeting with representatives of all States on the issue regarding procedures to be followed for the detection, detention and deportation of foreign nationals staying illegally in India and for deportation of arrested foreigners.
The amended order also allows District Magistrates to refer individuals who haven’t filed claims against their exclusion from NRC to the Tribunals to decide if they are foreigners or not.
“Opportunity will also be given to those who haven’t filed claims by referring their cases to the Tribunals. Fresh summons will be issued to them to prove their citizenship,” said the official. There are around 4 lakh residents who haven’t filed claims against their exclusion from final draft of NRC.