‘Exposes claim of Assam being unprepared for legal aid to illegal immigrants’.
Contrary to allegations by Opposition parties, Assam has a sufficient number of foreigners’ tribunals to provide legal assistance to those who find their names excluded from the draft National Register of Citizenship (NRC) in Assam.
Ever since the draft NRC has been published, Opposition parties have been alleging that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governments at the Centre and in Assam are unprepared to provide legal assistance to 40 lakh people who couldn’t make it to the draft NRC list.
However, according to the Home and Political Department of the Assam government, there are 100 foreigners’ tribunals in Assam to augment the enormous exercise of determining illegal immigrants in the state through the NRC; of these, 64 were set up in 2015 after the BJP government came to power at the Centre in 2014.
On the condition of anonymity, the member of such a tribunal told The Sunday Guardian: “The state has 100 foreigners’ tribunals—sufficient to provide legal assistance to those who find their names excluded from the draft NRC in Assam. Till 2014, there were only 36 such tribunals, but 64 were set up in 2015 after the BJP government came to power at the Centre in 2014. All these tribunals have been provided facilities like sitting chairs, desks and other infrastructure needed for the functioning of a normal civil court.”
“CCTV cameras have been installed in these tribunals to avoid any unforeseen situation. After the release of the NRC on 30 July, the Central and Assam governments have taken increased security measures to avert any unforeseen situation,” the tribunal member said.
The debate about the lack of preparedness to provide legal assistance to those who find their names out of the draft NRC started after Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s comment in Parliament: “The current NRC is not a final one, those who failed to find their names in the NRC list need not worry as they will be given ample opportunity to prove their citizenship claim. They can also take their citizenship claim to the foreign tribunals.”
The same member mentioned above said: “Foreign tribunals work as quasi-judicial bodies and judges or advocates have been appointed as members of these tribunals under the Foreigners Tribunal Act, 1941 and Foreigners Tribunal Act, 1964. Members of these tribunals are hired on a two-year contract and they are paid Rs 80,000 as monthly salary.”
“If a person is declared as a foreigner by these tribunals, such a person has no chance of living in the state. As per currently followed norms, the Assam border police detains such foreigners, keeps them in any of the detention camps in the state, and finally deports them to their home country. However, the course of action to be followed in the ongoing NRC exercise has not yet been decided,” the same member said.
The importance of foreigners’ tribunals can be understood from the fact that till December 2016, 80,194 people were declared foreigners, and the number increased to 93,399 till February this year.
The NRC, first published after the 1951 Census, is now being updated keeping 24 March 1971 as the baseline date to identify those who illegally immigrated to Assam from Bangladesh.