The Assam government has directed the Foreigners’ Tribunals (FTs) — which adjudicate citizenship in the state — to stick to giving “opinion” on a person’s nationality, and refrain from passing any “consequential orders.”
A written communication from Parijat Bhuyan, deputy secretary of the Political (B) Department of the Assam government, to members of FTs on September 4, said that the State Judicial Department had carried out a performance assessment exercise of “opinions” passed by FTs, and found that members had passed “consequential orders” while rendering opinion — something the state’s Judicial Department “has viewed with seriousness”.
Set up by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 1964, FTs are quasi-judicial bodies that adjudicate citizenship in Assam, and are now the last recourse for the 19 lakh excluded from the contentious National Register of Citizens (NRC). Apart from NRC drop-outs, FTs have been adjudicating cases of ‘doubtful voters’ and other references made by the Border Police in Assam.
As per the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964, FTs were constituted to give an “opinion” on whether a person is a foreigner or not, as per Foreigners Act, 1946 (31 of 1946).
However, as per the letter on September 4, the FT members were passing “consequential orders/directions”, while giving opinion. “This may not be a correct approach,” the letter said.
In ‘consequential orders’, the courts can direct government departments to take action, while in an ‘opinion, the government decides what action needs to be taken.
Speaking to The Indian Express, an official of the state’s Home and Political department said that the recent letter was part of an ongoing process of “educating members of the FTs.” “Some of them are not properly trained and they end up giving ‘consequential orders’, or extra opinion in the order. That is not their mandate,” the official said.
“The sole purpose of the FTs — which are quasi-judicial forums — is to give an opinion whether someone is a foreigner or an Indian. After that the state’s executive agencies take consequential action accordingly,” he said, adding that the order was passed so that FT members follow the rules and abstain from passing such opinions in the future.
According to Bhuyan’s letter, the Judicial Department has noted that consequential orders for “deletion of names from voter list, arrest, detention and deportation of the declared foreigners” had been passed. It requested the FT members to adhere to the views of the Judicial Department.
According to Mustafa Khaddam Hussain, advocate, Gauhati High Court and legal advisor, All Assam Minority Students’ Union, FT members “have the habit of passing orders that suggest deletion of names from voters lists, references against other family members of the person being tried, arrests, detention and deportation etc.”
“Such orders are being passed beyond their jurisdiction. We have raised this issue time and again — so such an action should have been taken earlier,” he said.