HC orders more tribunals

Guwahati, Jan. 3: A full bench of Gauhati High Court today passed a landmark judgment that could change the way the state government machinery approached detection and deportation of illegal migrants.

While asking Dispur to increase the number of foreigners' tribunals in the state within four months to ensure faster disposal of pending cases, the bench ordered constitution of a committee headed by a retired high court judge to expedite appointment of members in the tribunals.

It also directed the police to get "proof" that they had visited and met suspected migrants and not make false submissions in court that the latter could not provide proof of their citizenship. The police were also asked to properly verify a person's antecedents before sending his case to a foreigners' tribunal.

Currently, there are 36 foreigners tribunals in the state and lakhs of cases related to citizenship of alleged illegal migrants are pending before them for a long time.

The full bench of the high court, comprising Justice B.P. Katakey, Justice A.K. Goswami and Justice Ujjal Bhuyan passed the order in connection with a review petition (number 22/2010) filed by the Assam government, challenging an order passed by a division bench of the court in August 2010.

The state had challenged the division bench order that declared one Moslem Mondal and his family members, who Dispur had claimed to be illegal Bangladeshi migrants, as Indian citizens.

Mondal's counsel, Muij Uddin Mahmud, said the full bench today dismissed the review petition of the state government and directed it to set up sufficient number of foreigners tribunals in the state.

"The high court also asked the government to constitute a committee headed by a retired high court judge for appointment of members in the tribunals," he said.

Describing today's order as a "landmark judgment", Mahmud said till now, there were no clear-cut guidelines for appointment of members of foreigners' tribunals.

In the 135-page judgment the high court stated that from now on, policemen who visiting residences of alleged suspected migrants would have to take the signatures/thumb impressions of the latter along with some other residents of the area.

"The bench issued this directive because on many occasions, it had been observed that the police, without even visiting the residences of the alleged illegal migrants, make false submissions in court that they had made the visits and that the respondents could not provide any proof of their Indian citizenship," Mahmud said.

"The high court also took serious note of harassment of genuine Indian citizens by the police in the name of detection of illegal migrants and ordered the police to send only those cases to the foreigners' tribunals where there was proper ground to suspect the citizenship of the person(s) concerned," he said.

Mahmud said he had also submitted before the court that people who were alleged to be illegal migrants were sometimes denied relevant documents ' required to prove their citizenship ' deliberately by a section of government officials.

"The court today said since the burden of proof to prove his Indian citizenship was on the person alleged to be an illegal migrant, government officials must provide him with all necessary documents without delay, or else the errant officials would have to face action," he said.

According to the counsel, there were also cases where many people were declared foreigners ex-parte by the tribunals, as they fail to submit relevant documents within a stipulated period. "On this, the high court today said if there were valid reasons behind such delays in submission of documents, then the ex-parte order should be set aside."

The counsel of the Assam committee of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, Jenat Mollah, told reporters outside the court today that they would examine the order point-by-point and if they found anything in it that might lead to harassment of genuine minority community Indian citizens in the name of detection of illegal migrants, they might consider moving the Supreme Court challenging the order.

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