New Delhi/Guwahati, Dec. 5: Assam celebrated another victory in the fight against infiltration from Bangladesh with the Supreme Court today quashing a central notification that had resurrected a pro-migrant clause in the repealed Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act.
A bench comprising Justices S.B. Sinha and P.K. Balasubramanyam said it was unconstitutional to put the onus of proving that someone is an illegal migrant solely on the complainant. It also asked Delhi to constitute sufficient number of tribunals under the Foreigners Act within four months to settle pending complaints against thousands of suspected Bangladeshis residing in Assam.
Delhi had incorporated the questionable clause into the Foreigners Act in February, barely six months after the apex court struck down the IM(DT) Act for the very reason that it put the burden of proving someone as an illegal migrant on the complainant. The legislation was applicable only in Assam.
Asom Gana Parishad MP Sarbananda Sonowal, the original petitioner against the IM(DT) Act, and BJP leader Charan Deka moved court again after the UPA government pushed in the Foreigners (Tribunals for Assam) Order, 2006.
Delhi contended that the notification was meant to “prevent harassment of genuine Indian citizens who could otherwise be victimised in the name of detection and deportation (of illegal migrants)”.
Apart from quashing the controversial notification, the apex court asked the government to pay a fine of Rs 25,000 to the petitioners.
A jubilant Sonowal described the verdict as “a great victory for the people of Assam”. He said the apex court had “brought an end to moves by the Centre and the Congress government in the state to get back the IM(DT) Act through the backdoor”.
He urged the Congress governments at the Centre and the state not to repeat the mistake of protecting foreigners. “The Congress should regard protection of the identity of the indigenous people of Assam as its primary responsibility.”
The All Assam Students’ Union said the ruling vindicated its stand that the amendment to the Foreigners Act was discriminatory and an attempt to bring back the IM(DT) Act in a different form.
As news of the court’s verdict spread, student activists hit the streets in celebration. In Guwahati, members of the AASU and non-Congress political parties burst crackers and distributed sweets.
Chief minister Tarun Gogoi put up a brave front and maintained that the sole objective of adding a clause to the Foreigners Act was to protect the minorities from harassment on the pretext of detecting and deporting illegal migrants.
The Foreigners Act has a provision for tribunals, but not all cases are referred to them. Since the onus is on law-enforcing agencies to decide which cases need to go through a judicial process, minorities believe a “bona fide citizen” is just as susceptible to deportation as an illegal migrant.