The security towers at two corners and the barbed wires on the walls suggest that the green compound and building at Sondekoppa village, around 30 km from Bengaluru, is a secure facility.
Inside is an L-shaped building with seven rooms, a kitchen and bathrooms. There are 15 beds in the facility, where finishing touches are being applied.
A policeman stands guard at the gate and a few workers from Karnataka social welfare department walk around the main building and an under-construction staff quarters.
The facility is a detention centre for illegal immigrants readied by the Karnataka government on the basis of an MHA manual issued to state governments in January 2019. It is set to open on January 1. The state government last month issued orders for Bengaluru police to take custody of the building, which was earlier a hostel run by the social welfare department for students from backward classes, to convert it into a “foreigners’ movement restriction centre’’. The state issued orders on December 9 to make the facility fully operational by 2020.
“We are expecting the centre to be ready to take people in from January 1. We need to install CCTV cameras and complete the staff quarters. The kitchen and rooms are ready, power and water supply are in place and staff have been allocated,’’ an official of social welfare department said.
The police have allocated staff for security at the centre and the social welfare department has appointed warden and assistant warden, a cook, a clerk and other staff for operating the centre.
The push for early operation comes as a result of a case involving 15 illegal Bangladeshi immigrants who were arrested in August 2018 — a judge of Karnataka High Court has nudged the state government to open the facility soon.
The setting up of the centre was expedited by the state’s new BJP government espousing an exercise to prepare a National Register for Citizens. “A large number of people have come from other countries, especially Bangladesh, and settled in Bengaluru and other cities of Karnataka. Karnataka is one of the states where people from across the border are settling. We are collecting information and will discuss with the Union Home Minister on the road ahead,” state Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai said in September.
The MHA’s manual for ‘Model detention centre/holding centre/ camp’, on the basis of which the centre has been set up, was prepared after an order by the Supreme Court in 2018 in connection with a writ petition by a Guwahati-based NGO. The NGO had raised the poor conditions in detention centres during implementation of the NRC in Assam.
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According to the manual, illegal foreigners who can be detained in the centres after the conclusion of cases pending against them include people awaiting deportation due to non confirmation of nationality; those not issued travel documents by the foreign government, illegal immigrants detected by state law agencies, those declared foreigners by tribunals, those who travelled with fake documents, foreigners ordered to be deported by the central government, those violating visa norms and those detained for suspicious behaviour.
As per the manual, detention centres must be outside premises of prisons and should have a cell where detainees can contact embassies or their family.
The facilities that the manual recommend include “electricity with generator, drinking water (including water coolers), facilities for hygiene, accommodation with beds, sufficient toilets/ baths with provision of running water, communication facilities, kitchen’’ as well as food, drainage and sewage facilities, security and separate quarters for men and women. “It should be ensured that members of the same family are not separated and all family members are housed in the same detention centre,’’ says the manual, adding, “strict prison regimes applicable to undertrial and convicted prisoners should not be made applicable’’ at the centres.
The manual recommends creche facilities for young children of detainees and access to education for older children. Recreational facilities are also prescribed.
“The centre has been created in adherence with the MHA manual. Most facilities have been incorporated. Nobody who is detained is going to be at the centre for more than three months prior to deportation,’’ a source said.
Two PILs have been filed in Karnataka high court, seeking the state government’s action against illegal immigrants and the matter is expected to come up again this month. In one of the petitions, a BHP activist has accused Karnataka government of failing to operationalise the detention centre on Bengaluru outskirts.
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