The Supreme Court on Thursday said that foreigners who could not be deported to their parent country could not be held forever in Assam’s detention centres and that it was not averse to ordering their release provided there was a way to ensure that they will be available whenever needed by the authorities.
“We have no problem issuing order for releasing them. Only question is how can we ensure their presence when required,” a bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Jain observed.
The court asked advocate Prashant Bhushan, whom it had appointed as amicus curiae, and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to suggest how this could be ensured.
Bhushan referred to an affidavit filed by the state which suggested making the detenues wear radio collar devices them providing surety from two Indian nationals along with an amount of Rs 1 lakh.
Mehta said the radio collar was one of the options being considered. Bhushan suggested that a cut-off period of six months could be set for deportation, failing which a foreigner could be released on fulfilling the conditions.
However, Mehta expressed reservations saying grant of such relief must not amount to encouragement. Those crossing over illegally must not think that even if caught, they will be released after six months in detention, he said.
“Stop them, You evolve a mechanism,” said the CJI.
Mehta replied that efforts were on and technology was being used to check illegals where there was no physical fencing.
He said “infiltration has come down substantially” in the last few years.
“We don’t know,” the CJI replied. As Mehta stressed that deterrent measures should be adopted, the CJI said, “You have options. Deport them. You are not doing it. You are only showing us some envelopes.”
The court is hearing a PIL highlighting the plight of foreigners in the state’s detention centres. The plea was originally filed by activist Harsh Mander. During a hearing on May 2, the court removed Mander as the petitioner after he sought the recusal of the CJI alleging bias, and replaced him with the Supreme Court Legal Services Authority as the petitioner.
Meanwhile, the court pulled up the state government over setting up of Foreigners Tribunals to deal with the issue of alleged infiltrators.
Mehta said that at least 1,000 more tribunals will have to be set up, but the court asked where the government would find the presiding officers from. It also sought to know how many advocates would take up the job which was only for a fixed term.
The state said that it was considering recruiting retired judicial officers.
The CJI then asked state Chief Secretary Alok Kumar how many judges were part of the pool of retired officers, but the officer could not answer the query.