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Foreigner Tribuls

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  18 Jun 2017 12:00 AM GMT

The State government is unhappy with the working of some Foreigner Tribuls, but it would do well to turn the searchlight on sections of the administration helping to make Indian citizens out of foreigners by providing them with key documents. In the last couple of years, around 60 thousand rulings have been handed down by the tribuls, of which 40 thousand rulings declared the petitioners to be Indian citizens. The State Home department wanted these cases to be reviewed by the State level screening committee, and on the basis of its prelimiry report, contested 25 rulings in Gauhati High Court. As many as 23 rulings were stayed by the court, prompting Dispur to look critically at how some of the 100 Foreigner Tribuls in the State are operating. Some judges are reportedly under the scanner for questioble rulings, while there is some talk about tightening up norms for appointing tribul judges in future. Early this year, Leader of Opposition and Congress MLA Debabrata Saikia wrote to Gauhati HC Chief Justice seeking a judicial review of FT rulings. He contended that most police investigations are arbitrary and tribul proceedings conducted without proper notice to or argument by the adversely affected party. According to Saikia, many genuine Indian citizens are being held as foreigners because they are illiterate and poor, their counsels are negligent and other reasons. Some rights groups and lawyers have been alleging that border police and Election Commission officials ‘randomly pick up and frame Indian citizens as foreigners’, which is why majority of such cases get thrown out by Foreigner Tribuls.
Meanwhile, the controversy over the role played by some Foreigners Tribuls keeps acquiring strident political overtones, with BJP and its allies ranged against the Congress and AIUDF. But what should offer Dispur serious food for thought is the revelation in Gauhati High Court about some panchayat secretaries, village headmen and village school headmasters furnishing various certificates and documentary proofs to declared foreigners housed in detention camps. In one case in which the petitioner is a woman from Barpeta declared a foreigner in January 2005, she moved the High Court where a single judge bench ruled against her. She then challenged this verdict before a HC divisiol bench last year, but it transpired during the hearings that even as she has been housed in a detention camp since August 2015, she maged to file a writ appeal at the High Court along with documents issued to her by panchayat secretary after her detention. This in turn prompted the HC bench to ask the government counsel how is it that government officials still keep issuing certificates to declared foreigners after they are detained in camps. How the State government follows up on the HC judges’ observation and take corrective action remains to be seen. Gauhati High Court has already rejected documents issued by panchayat secretaries as valid papers for the NRC update exercise, even as its ruling has been challenged in the Supreme Court. The powers-be in Dispur should now go after and elimite all rackets in issuing residency, age and other certificates by sections of the administration. It has already come to light that Foreigner Tribuls often have to accept documents submitted as prima facie evidence, since they cannot check by themselves whether the documents are origil or not. In a State where voter lists have long been badly compromised, cases have been reported of persons submitting fake voter list to tribuls. If key documents are made so easily available to foreigners, the task to build a case against them becomes all the more difficult for the police, and for Foreigner Tribuls to entertain. The district screening committees, headed by deputy commissioners, should be kept on toes to go through the rulings of Foreigner Tribuls within stipulated time and submit their reports speedily to the State level committee. Putting Foreigner Tribuls under the scanner is all very well, but the system has to be straightened from bottom up.

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