A man lodged at a detention centre for illegal foreigners in Assam’s Goalpara district died after a brief illness on Friday evening, officials said. Naresh Koch, aged around 56 years, was at the detention centre for two years and is the 29th inmate to die in Assam’s six detention centres, according to government data.
A senior police officer said Koch was ill and was treated at Guwahati Medical College and Hospital. He died there on Friday evening.
Assam currently has six detention centres for illegal foreigners and these are located inside jails. Together they house 1,000-odd detainees. A new detention centre solely for detaining illegal foreigners is under construction at Matia in Goalpara district.
Naresh, who hailed from Mornoi in Goalpara district, was in detention since March 7, 2018. In an order dated June 1, 2017, Foreigners’ Tribunal No 5 in Goalpara had declared Koch an illegal foreigner in an ex-parte order. Saying that Koch has not presented himself before the tribunal despite repeated adjournments, the tribunal said, “Hence, this Tribunal is compelled to pass an order declaring opposite party as a foreigner of post-1971 stream.” It ordered that he be taken into custody and detained till deported.
Section 9 of the Foreigner’s Act, 1946, says that the onus of proving that a person is an Indian lies on the person and, hence, when the person is absent from proceedings despite receiving a notice from the tribunal, the member of the tribunal can proceed ex-parte and declare the person a foreigner. Last year, MoS, Home, G K Reddy told Parliament that Foreigners’ Tribunals in Assam had declared 63,959 people foreigners through ex-parte proceedings between 1985 and February 28, 2019.
People close to the family said Koch was financially weak and did not properly understand the complexities of legal process and paperwork. “He was in detention centre for almost two years. The family got a house under a government scheme and under the Modi government’s scheme, they got a toilet. How can such person be a foreigner?” asked Noni Kumar Das, a neighbour. Local village headman Bomkesh Banai said, “The family belongs to the Koch community. They migrated in 1964 as refugees and settled in Goalpara district. The family is extremely poor. He used to work as a daily-wage labourer. His only son also works as a daily-wager.”
A relative of Naresh said his grandfather Hiralal Koch’s name was in the 1971 voters’ list.