New Delhi, May 6: The Union Cabinet tonight decided to repeal the contentious Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act of 1983, fulfilling a long-standing demand of the All-Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and several other organisations of the state.
Parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj told journalists after the Cabinet meeting that the process of detecting and deporting illegal migrants who entered Assam on or after March 25, 1971, could be accelerated by repealing the IM(DT) Act.
She said the Cabinet had approved a draft Bill for repealing the legislation with effect from a date that would be notified soon. The Centre will move Parliament on the issue this week.
Swaraj said there had been complaints about “discriminatory provisions” in the IM(DT) Act and the fact that it was applicable only to Assam. Under the Act, the onus of proving that a person is an illegal immigrant is on the complainant.
The Foreigners Act, 1946, is applicable in the rest of the country.
The Union minister said former Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta had first petitioned the Centre to repeal the Act. The then Governor, Lt. Gen. (retd) S.K. Sinha, expressed similar views in a special report to the President in 1998.
The same year, the attorney-general of India, too, had argued that different Acts cannot be applied for detection and deportation of illegal immigrants in different parts of the country. He also argued that the IM(DT) Act was “promoting state domicility, which is highly detrimental to the concept of unity and integrity of India”.
After the IM(DT) Act is repealed, all cases that have been referred to or are under consideration of the tribunals set up in accordance with the legislation will probably be taken up afresh under the provisions of the Foreigners Act.
However, appeals pending before the appellate tribunal might be retained. The Gauhati High Court could be empowered to review the decisions of the appellate tribunal.
From the inception of the Act till December 31, 2002, just 1,501 illegal migrants were “physically deported” from Assam.
In contrast, 4,89,046 Bangladeshi nationals were deported from West Bengal under the Foreigners Act between 1983 and November 1998.
The AASU had recently warned of another mass movement if the Centre did not convene a joint session of Parliament to discuss the issue of scrapping the Act. Its president, Prabin Boro, accused Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Union home minister L.K. Advani of “fooling the people of Assam all along” by maintaining that the BJP could not scrap the legislation because it did not have the strength of numbers in the Rajya Sabha.
One of the BJP’s pre-poll promises was that it would try to scrap the Act, which the AASU and many other organisations perceive to be the biggest hurdle in detecting and deporting illegal migrants.