According to an announcement made on Monday, the Assam government is expecting a major surge of cases in the foreigners tribuls following the publication of the updated tiol Register of Citizens (NRC) by the end of the year. Dispur will now prepare a standard norm to ensure the smooth functioning of the tribuls. This is expected to include better infrastructure, adequate staff strength and logistics. The move is supposed to be synchronized with the scheduled publication of the updated NRC (at least its draft) by December 31 this year. And as a tural corollary, those individuals whose mes do not figure in the NRC will be referred to the foreigners tribuls, thereby leading to a quantum jump in such cases. What one cannot afford to overlook is the fact that the tribuls are already saddled with 187,985 pending cases as on September 4 this year. A meeting held recently in New Delhi between officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Assam government (represented by Principal Secretary, Home and Political, L. S. Changsan took some vital decisions on the matter. One of the decisions was that Dispur would draft the standard norm and send it to the MHA for approval. There are altogether 100 foreigners tribuls currently functioning in Assam. Of these, 36 are permanent and the remaining 64 were set up in 2015 in accordance with the instructions of the Gauhati High Court to speed up the trial of foreigners’ cases in the tribuls. Another major decision taken at the meeting was that in principle the Centre would bear the cost of running detention camps in Assam. Those declared as foreigners by the FTs are to be lodged at the detention camps to await expulsion from the country. At present there are 833 individuals lodged across six detention camps located at Goalpara, Kokrajhar, Silchar, Dibrugarh, Jorhat and Tezpur. During the meeting in New Delhi, State government officials also proposed the setting up of “permanent” detention camps instead of continuing with the current practice where a part of a jail is converted into a detention camp. Without formally agreeing to this proposal, the MHA officials present at the meeting assured the Assam government delegation that the feasibility of the proposal would be carefully examined. However, the MHA officials present at the meeting did not approve of the proposal to set up permanent detention camps because the setting up of such permanent camps would entail a large expenditure and require a new set-up of staff, infrastructure, land and so on.
It is heartening to see the present Assam government’s focus on the foreigners tribuls after decades of total neglect of the problem. The present situation, where the foreigners tribuls are saddled with 187,985 pending cases, need not have arisen if the Assam government had been alert to the problem of large-scale illegal immigration mainly from Bangladesh and had worked assiduously on the tasks of detection and deportation right from the beginning instead of postponing it for years. What has created the related problems of illegal immigration and the need to set up such a large number of foreigners tribuls now is the total neglect of the large-scale illegal immigration by the Assam government and the Centre in the early stages. And the Centre did everything to aggravate matters by bringing in a black immigration law like the IM(DT) Act exclusively for Assam. This law remained in place for 22 years, completely paralysing the district administrations and barring them from detecting and deporting foreign tiols according to the due process of law prevailing in the rest of the country. What could be achieved by way of accumulation due to a perverse immigration law is being witnessed now. The State now has something like six million Bangladeshis who constitute the majority in at least 10 of the districts of the State. And we all know how empty any promise of dealing with the 187,985 cases pending with the foreigners tribuls even in 10 years is going to be. A government that has neglected such a major calamity afflicting the State for so many decades, ought to realize that there is a limit to the mischief that a democratic government can do with the people. That limit was crossed in Assam long ago. The Centre and the State government must now take full responsibility for having betrayed the people of Assam for close to half-a-century.