New Delhi, Sept. 12: Assam has asked the Centre for 64 more tribunals to dispose of the lakhs of “foreigners” cases, sending a strong message that it is serious about tackling the issue of illegal migrants.
Dispur has told the Centre that it requires 100 tribunals — it already has 36 and needs 64 more — to dispose of the whopping 2.37 lakh cases pen-ding, some of them for as long as two decades, in these tribunals under the Foreigners Act, 1946. “We have received a request today from the Assam government for 64 tribunals,” confirmed Shambhu Singh, joint secretary (Northeast) in the home ministry.
The Centre, which had written to Dispur last month to speed up the disposal of such cases, may not deny the request immediately but North Block wants an average of 200 cases to be heard every day in the existing tribunals. It is likely to send a list of modalities to make the existing tribunals more effective by this week, sources said.
Many of the additional tribunals have been asked for border districts with Bangladesh. More than five tribunals have been sought for each of Dhubri, Goalpara, Barpeta and Nagaon districts and six tribunals for Sonitpur. A few tribunals were demanded for Chirang, Baksa and four for Cachar, but none for Upper Assam districts like Tinsukia, Sivasagar or for Golaghat and Karbi Anglong, sources said.
Significantly, Dispur’s request comes amid intelligence reports that 500 “refugees” in the 215 camps remaining after the violence in Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD) fled to Bangladesh yesterday.
Sources said the individuals appeared to have scooted to escape an inquiry by state authorities on evidence of land pattas possessed by the refugees. The issue of illegal migrants has come into sharp focus, particularly in Assam after the violence in BTAD since July. As public pressure seems to mount, Dispur is appearing to display its actions more visibly. The request though, comes in the wake of a strong communication from the Centre last month reminding the stringent provisions of the Foreigners (Tribunal) Amendment Order, 2012 notified on 26 April.
There are total of 3.1 lakh cases of suspected immigrants that include 1.4 lakh “doubtful voters” cases and 76,000 cases that have yet to be taken cognisance of by the court, sources said.
However, North Block may not give in to the state’s request as staffing is a challenge for the courts. “What should be done is to assess performance,” said an official.
Officials said staffing could take up to a year-and-a-half. Last year, the MHA wrote to registrars of all high courts to propose panels of retired additional district judges or district judges for the tribunals.
Four names each from Bihar, West Bengal and Karnataka were received but there is no vacancy for judges in the existing tribunals. Each tribunal comprises two judges and with new guidelines in place, the judges need to give no more than ten days to an individual to present evidence of his Indian citizenship.
Following the apex court trashing out the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) or the IMDT Act, the onus of proving one’s nationality was transferred back to the individual as prescribed under the Foreigners Act.
Under law, the state police cannot arrest a foreigner, only detain him, but in Assam the police used to issue a “quit notice” to the individual proven a foreigner.
However, on January 31 last year, the Centre issued standing instructions to Dispur that an individual pronounced foreigner by a tribunal should be immediately detained, sources said.