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Strict action against visa offenders

New Delhi, May 7: The Rajya Sabha today passed an amendment to the Foreigners’ Act, which hopes to make punishment for visa violations more stringent. Flouting regulations and over-staying without valid papers could now be punishable by a maximum of eight years in prison and a fine of up to Rs 50,000.

Minister of state for home Harin Pathak, who introduced the amended Bill, said the object was to ensure that foreigners do not go unpunished because of laxity in enforcement of rules. “The cases under the Foreigners’ Act are cognizable, non-bailable and triable by a first class magistrate. However, the accused persons arrested under the Act often manage to get bail. The Act also does not classify the violation of the various provisions, and the quantum of punishment for various crimes is left to the discretion of the court,” he said.

The new amendment will plug these gaps and ensure that serious offences will be tried by a sessions court, instead of a first class magistrate. Very often, the minister said, foreigners managed to get bail from the magistrate. The court will now also have to give the state government the opportunity to oppose bail applications of foreigners.

With amendment of Section 14 of the Foreigners’ Act of 1946, the violation of visa conditions shall be punishable with two years’ imprisonment that may extend up to eight years and shall also be liable to a fine which shall not be less than Rs 10,000 but may extend to Rs 50,000.

Edwardo Faleiro, speaking for the Congress, said that the minister while introducing the Bill had candidly explained that it was aimed at curbing illegal immigrants.

Taking off from there, Faleiro said the Cabinet decision to scrap the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983, could lead to the harrassment of genuine citizens in Assam.

He said while no one held a brief for allowing illegal influx, there cannot be a witch hunt in the name of clearing the state of alleged foreigners.

Fali Nariman, noted jurist and nominated member of the Rajya Sabha, said there was a need for a comprehensive review of the Foreigners’ Act.

He felt that the obsolete rules required to be overhauled and a new legislation brought in keeping in mind the changing international environment.

Nariman said the Constitution promised life and liberty to not just Indian citizens but to all people residing in the country. Nariman’s observations followed several MPs’ calling for strong measures against Bangladeshi immigrants.

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