NRC Row: MHA Ordered Setting Up Detention Centres in All States

Why does the government want to set up detention centres if it doesn’t plan to carry out a nationwide NRC?

4 min read
NRC Row: MHA Ordered Setting Up Detention Centres in All States

Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah publicly denied the existence of detention centres in India. PM Modi, in a speech delivered on 22 December, said, “The Congress and its allies – some urban Naxals – are spreading rumours that all Muslims will be sent to detention centres... Neither is anybody sending the country’s Muslims to detention centres nor are there any detention centres in India.”

Two days later, Shah seemed to clarify, saying that no detention centres have been made since the Modi-led government came to power.

An advisory was circulated by MHA to all the states with instructions to set up detention centres. The Ministry confirmed to The Quint that an advisory of the kind was indeed issued to all states.


Set Up Detention Centres: MHA to States

It has been found by The Quint that in response to the questions raised by All India Trinamool Congress’ Rajya Sabha MP Nadimul Haque on 11 December, MHA confirmed the setting up of detention centres in states and union territories “to detain illegal migrants or convicted foreigners pending deportation to their native country”.

MHA informed Haque that “consolidated instructions on the subject contained in the Model Detention Centre Manual have also been circulated by the Government to all States/UT administrations on 9 January 2019”.

Elucidating details of expenditure which will be incurred in setting up detention centres, MHA said, “government has approved detention centres in Matia, Goalpara, Assam at an estimated cost of over Rs 46 crores”.

“From the response in the Parliament, it seems that the government has imagined detention centres in all states.”
Anjali Bharadwaj, Transparency Activist

It’s clear that the government has directed detention centres be constructed in states and in union territories. The question remains: Why does the government want to set up detention centres if it doesn’t plan to carry out a nationwide NRC?

If we go by the logic we have been provided ie, of tackling ‘illegal immigrants’, hasn’t the said problem existed for years? Or is the government privy to some new data that’s shown an increase in the number of illegal immigrants in states, so much so that we need detention centres across India?

High Walls, Barbed Wire: MHA on Detention Centres

The Quint accessed Chapter 4 of Model Detention Centre Manual, titled ‘Amenities to be provided in the detention centres/camps’.

The crucial points in the chapter are:

  • Detention centres shall be set up outside jail premises
  • CCTV cameras shall be installed at various places with an adequate number of security personnel for round-the-clock security and monitoring
  • Detention camps should have a proper boundary wall, with dense barbed-wire fencing above the same. The boundary wall should be at the very least 10 feet high with a main gate and strictly controlled access. Proper illumination should be provided all along the wall in the centre.
  • There should be a provision to transfer foreigners in detention from one detention centre to another
  • Every detention centre shall have a cell to help detained foreigners contact their concerned mission/embassy/consulate or their kin, following proper procedure
  • Basic amenities such as electricity with generators, drinking water, accommodation with beds, toilets, kitchen, communication facilities and so on and so forth will be provided at the detention centre
  • There should be properly segregated accommodation for male and female detainees
  • It should be ensured that members of same family are not separated and all family members are housed in the same detention centre. (However, the manual does not clarify whether the family will be allowed to stay in the same cell).
  • A detainee is to be permitted to meet family, but to meet others, provisions in the model prison manual 2016 shall be followed

In a documentary called ‘Between Fear and Hatred: Surviving Migration Detention in Assam’, released in November 2018, Amnesty International revealed the appalling conditions of Assam’s detention centres.

As reported by The Quint:

“Our study found a number of persons who have been in detention centres for months and even years, without any access to parole. They are separated from their families and have limited contact with the outside world. Other than severely restricting movement and access to livelihood, indefinite detention has devastating effects on the mental health of those detained and their families.”

The documentary shines light upon the lack of basic amenities provided to detainees in the detention centres. The question is – Will the detention centres that the government is planning to set up in other states be any better?


Harsh Mander, a human rights activist, visited detention centres in Assam as a Special Monitor of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). He told The Quint,

“Now that the NRC will be carried out in the country and we know that Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 excludes Muslims, detention centres are creating a vision of concentration camp-like centres in India.”

The Union Cabinet has approved a budget of Rs 3,941 crore to update the National Population Register (NPR). The MHA, in its press release issued in November 2014, had said:

“The NPR is the first step towards creation of National Register of Indian Citizens or NRC by verifying the citizenship of every usual resident.”

Can those who fail to prove their Indian citizenship during NPR land in detention centres?


“People who fail to provide complete documents will be marked as ‘doubtful voter’ and their citizenship will be questionable. NPR is an integral part of NRC. And if the person is from a Muslim community then he might end up in a detention centre because other communities are covered in CAA, which gives citizenship to Hindus and others.”
Anjali Bharadwaj, Transparency Activist

She added that NPR will help the government to create a database which will expedite the NRC or a similar exercise.

“Anybody who is unable to show complete documents, even if your family has lived in India for generations, is not enough. Such people are likely to be sent to detention centres. But these people are not actually from any other country. Then, where will they be deported, to which country?”
Anjali Bharadwaj, Transparency Activist

Some questions MHA is yet to reply to The Quint are:

  • How many states have followed the advisory and constructed detention camps? Please provide the names of these states.
  • Please provide the names of states that have refused to construct detention centres.

The Quint will update this piece as and when we receive a response.

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