The Supreme Court came down heavily on the Assam government and state Chief Secretary Thursday for submitting in an affidavit that the Foreigners Tribunals in the state could release foreigners who have been in detention for more than five years on fulfilling certain conditions.
“How do you expect SC to be party to an order allowing those who have no right to remain in India to be allowed to do so on fulfilling conditions? Your government has not succeeded in following Constitution and you expect Supreme Court to be party to it,” Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi told state Chief Secretary Alok Kumar.
CJI Gogoi was on the bench with Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna. “You are asking the Supreme Court to be party to an illegal order. We will order departmental proceedings against you right now. You have no right to continue in office,” CJI Gogoi told Kumar, who could not explain why such a stand was taken.
As Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the state government, tried to intervene, the CJI said, “This man doesn’t know what he is doing. He is signing on dotted lines. Mr Chief Secretary, you are in serious trouble. We are going to issue notice to you for making slanderous statements against the law…”
The criticism started after Mehta read out the affidavit filed by the Chief Secretary. The court, which is hearing a PIL by activist Harsh Mander on the inhuman conditions of detention centres for foreigners in Assam, had earlier asked the state government to submit an affidavit on its plans for those who had been detained at such centres for long since attempts to deport them had not succeeded.
Mehta referred to a section of affidavit that spoke about a meeting between officials of the Home Ministry and the state government, which contained the recommendation on releasing declared foreigners after recording their biometrics etc.
The bench, also comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, then quizzed Chief Secretary Kumar. “Is there not a failure on your part not in detaining them (illegal foreigners)?”.
“Yes,” said Kumar.
“Yet you want Supreme Court to make this order?” said the CJI.
Referring to a submission that only about 900 foreigners were in the detention centres, CJI Gogoi pointed out that the state had so far detected over 1 lakh foreigners. The rest, he said, had mingled with the local population.
“Most of them are in the voters’ list and are voting…They are taking part in the political system of the country when they have no right to,” CJI Gogoi told Kumar, adding, “this is how your government is functioning”.
Kumar replied that the government had “intentions” to do the needful. But the CJI told him that the “government does not have intentions, it only has duties”. Kumar then apologised to the bench and said he will file a revised affidavit
“What will you say? That you will build five-star detention centres? Or beg and plead with their countries of origin to take them back?” said CJI Gogoi. As the amicus curiae in the matter tried to intervene, the CJI said it was the responsibility of the Government of India to find a solution to the problem. “That solution has been illusory for 40 years,” said the CJI.
The bench told Mehta that it wanted to see the minutes of the meeting between the Home Ministry and state government officials and asked him to urgently summon a senior official to the court. The court waited for the official who turned up with a different set of documents. Mehta subsequently assured the court that he would produce all necessary documents by Friday.