63,959 Declared ‘Foreigners’ in Assam Without Hearing Since 1985
MHA reveals number of ex parte decisions from 1985 to 28 Feb 2019 in response to questions from MP Shashi Tharoor.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has revealed that nearly 64,000 people have been declared ‘foreigners’ by Foreigners Tribunals in Assam in ‘ex parte proceedings’ from 1985 to 28 February 2019.
This means, when the tribunals passed orders declaring these people ‘foreigners’ and therefore liable to be sent to detention centres or be deported, they were neither present during the proceedings nor were they heard.
The revelations were made by the MHA on 2 July in response to a set of questions in the Lok Sabha from Congress MP Shashi Tharoor.
What Other Details Did the MHA Reveal?
Tharoor also asked the MHA for details about the detention centres in Assam and the number of people incarcerated in them.
In response to Tharoor’s questions, the MHA revealed that there are currently six detention centres which are designated to hold people declared foreigners in Assam.
As of 25 June 2019, there are 1,133 people detained in these detention centres. Out of them:
- 769 have been kept in these detention centres for more than a year; and
- 335 have been kept in these detention centres for more than three years.
Upon being asked to disclose the number of detainees who have access to free legal aid from the government, the MHA evaded answering, saying that free legal aid is provided to “those who are in need of it.”
What is the Significance of the Huge Number of Ex Parte Decisions?
The Quint asked Aman Wadud, an advocate who has represented many people fighting their cases in the Foreigners Tribunals – including Army veteran Mohammad Sanaullah – what so many cases to have been decided ex parte, ie, without the person in question being present, means.
According to him, there are a number of reasons why this could have happened:
“In vast majority of cases police don’t even serve the notice of the Tribunal upon the “accused”, these people have been declared “foreigners” without their knowledge. In other cases, despite receiving notice many don’t appear or stop appearing before the Tribunal after few appearances because of acute poverty or complexity of the process. There are cases where even lawyers have misguided people who have been served notice.”Aman Wadud
Wadud says the fact that such a large number of people have been declared foreigners in ex parte proceedings is “very concerning”, noting that under the law applicable to these tribunals, the burden of proof is on the accused.
If people are being declared foreigners without a chance to defend themselves (with little fault of their own) and having to face penal consequences as a result, serious questions about whether justice is being served come to the fore. The high number of people declared foreigners ex parte makes it clear that it isn’t a statistical anomaly and needs to be addressed.
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