July 12: The question of illegal migrants ' one of the most divisive issues in the country ' was thrown wide open today with the Supreme Court striking down a 22-year-old law that critics said discriminated in favour of the accused.
The court has termed Assam’s Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act “unconstitutional”.
The Assam-specific act, promulgated to identify and deport illegal migrants from Bangladesh, puts the onus of proof on the complainant, not on the accused as in the case of the Foreigners Act, which governs the rest of the country.
Opponents of the legislation have been complaining that the clause has made the law defunct because it is virtually impossible for a third party to give proof unless the state machinery chips in.
The act was applicable only in Assam but its revocation has far wider implications because state governments like the one in Bengal, which has a sizeable Bangladeshi population, have been keen to get the reach of the law extended to their territory.
Allegations have been levelled that incumbent governments are reluctant to take action against illegal immigrants because they often serve as captive vote banks.
Many of these immigrants have managed to get themselves registered as voters with the help of documents such as ration cards that are allotted indiscriminately.
The Left Front government in Bengal had pleaded in the Supreme Court that the law be made applicable in the state. The plea stands nullified in the light of the court order today.
State CPM secretary Anil Biswas said: “This is a very serious issue and we have to formulate an appropriate response to it after a detailed discussion in our party and the government. I feel that the Supreme Court should also approach the issue carefully.”
The order came on a petition filed by Assam student leader-turned-MP Sarbananda Sonowal in 2000.