Assam NRC | Lost Job as I Declared Fewer Foreigners: Ex-Officer

‘Assam govt sacked me as I declared only 5 people as foreigners in 2 years’: Ex-Foreigner Tribunal Judicial Officer.

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India
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Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

No reasons were given for the termination (of my contract) but when I filed a case before the High Court challenging my termination, it came to light that the (State) government’s stand was that my disposal of cases was high but my declaration (of foreigners) was less.
Kartik Ray, Former Judicial Officer, Foreigners’ Tribunals, Assam

A former Judicial Officer of Assam’s Foreigners’ Tribunals (FT), Kartik Ray was sacked by the Assam Government in 2017 along with 18 others. Working in Dhubri district, he says he was removed because he did not declare enough people as foreigners.

“There was no pressure from the government openly, but internally they had assessed. That’s why it was not in our knowledge that to save our jobs we have to declare foreigners, whether it is rightly or wrongly.”
Kartik Ray, Former Judicial Officer, Foreigners’ Tribunals, Assam

Judicial Officers for Assam's Foreigners' Tribunals are engaged by a committee which comprises of seven members including a High Court Judge. All FT member submit monthly reports about their work to the Registrar of the Gauhati High Court and to Government of Assam’s Home & Political Department.

Kartik Ray, a lawyer, was hired in 2015 to serve in Assam’s Foreigners’ Tribunals. His job – to decide whether a person left out of Assam’s National Register of Citizens or NRC - is an Indian citizen or a foreigner.

Ray and 18 other FT judicial officers, whose contracts were terminated in 2017, jointly filed a petition in the Gauhati High Court seeking an explanation from Assam’s BJP-ruled government.

In reply, Assam’s Home & Political Department filed an affidavit, in which a key comment was:

“Refusal to give extension of service to the petitioners was because overall performance was found unsatisfactory, and also due to some inadequacies noticed during last two years.”

The Government also shared a performance sheet comparing Ray and 7 other FT members from Dhubri. The sheet shows that Ray’s percentage of cases disposed – at 25.92%, was 2nd highest. Yet his contract was terminated while FT members who had cleared fewer cases, as low as 8.23%, were retained.

Why?

Because Ray declared only 5 individuals as foreigners, while other FT members declared many more as foreigners.. and so, were seen to be “good performers”. 
Performance sheet of Kartik Ray submitted by the state government to the High Court. 
Performance sheet of Kartik Ray submitted by the state government to the High Court. 
(Image: Accessed by The Quint)
I was posted at Dhubri district in Assam, at Bangladesh border, with a very high Muslim population. I had to verify their records one by one. If I find someone genuinely Indian, why should I declare him or her a foreigner? He/she could be a Hindu or he/she could be a Muslim, does not matter.
Kartik Ray, Former Judicial Officer, Foreigners’ Tribunals, Assam

Ray filed a counter affidavit saying – “It is evident that the basis of assessment is ‘percentage of foreigners’ declared’ and not total number of disposals” - He asked how could ‘number of disposals’ be the sole criterion while assessing his work.

When we declare a person a foreigner we can’t do it blindly. We have to verify records and decide whether the person is Indian or a foreigner.
Kartik Ray, Former Judicial Officer, Foreigners’ Tribunals, Assam

The Gauhati High Court ordered Assam’s Foreigners’ Tribunal committee to assess Ray’s performance and that of the other petitioners. The committee upheld the non-extension of the contracts, but Ray says he was not called even once by the Committee for his statement.

Now, after NRC has been completed, do you think people have reason to believe that the Foreigners Tribunals may not do their job impartially?

There is fear among the people. I know most of our colleagues (FT Judicial Officers) have declared genuine Indian citizens as foreigners.

Ray’s case raises serious questions about the functioning of Assam’s Foreigners’ Tribunals that will decide the fate of 19 lakh people who have been excluded from the NRC list.

What will happen to these 19 lakh people if the Tribunals do not function impartially?

If the Tribunals declare them foreigners they have the right to appeal in the High Court but how many would have the resources to fight their cases for months, even years?

Ironically, the Assam govt has hired 200 new FT Judicial Officers who are drawing salaries but have no work because the NRC List has not been notified even 1 year after it was prepared.

We will keep tracking the fate of 19 lakh people in Assam who are in danger of becoming ‘citizens of nowhere’.

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