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Direct release of "declared foreigners" lodged in Assam detention centres amid Coronavirus outbreak: Representation made to CJI SA Bobde

Shruti Mahajan

A representation has been made to Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, seeking directions for the immediate release of "declared foreigners" lodged in Assam detention centres owing to the Coronavirus outbreak.

As per the representation sent by an organisation called Justice and Liberty Initiative, such "declared foreigners" have been lodged in as many as six detention centres in Assam. It has been sought that these persons be released in compliance with the Supreme Court's order passed in May of 2019.

This request comes at a time when the Indian government has called for a nationwide lockdown to fight the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The representation made to the CJI prays for the immediate release of these persons who are detained on grounds of being declared foreigners. The letter also prays for a direction to the Government of Assam not to detain or arrest any more persons who are "declared foreigners" "until the situation affected by COVID-19 returns to normalcy."

The organisation refers to the "bold step" taken by the Supreme Court towards ensuring that prisons do not become breeding grounds for COVID-19 spread.

On March 23, the Supreme Court had directed all states to constitute high-powered committees to consider releasing on bail or parole, undertrials or convicts facing up to seven years' imprisonment. This order was passed keeping in mind the menace of overcrowding in prisons and the need for maintaining distance to contain spread of the Coronavirus.

The organisation, in its representation to the CJI, has requested for the same benefits to be extended to the "declared foreigners" lodged in detention centres in Assam.

"Being "human beings" they also have at least the basic right to live and to not die of COVID-19 in the precincts of a prison, which has despicable living conditions."
Representation by Justice and Liberty Initiative

There are as many as 802 detenues in these six detention centres in Assam. Many of these detenues are "old and ailing" and 10 such detenues had died between the period of March 1, 2019 and February 29, 2020, the representation points out, placing reliance on information presented in the the Rajya Sabha by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs earlier this month.

In view of these figures and the prevalent health crisis across the globe, the organization has urged the Court to consider the request. It also highlights an order passed by the Apex Court in 2019, in which it had taken note of the "perpetual detention" faced by these "declared foreigners."

The Court had then directed for the release of all those detenues who were detained for three or more years subject to certain conditions, noting that these persons were neither criminals nor a threat to the society.

The Supreme Court has also been urged to display its magnanimity and dilute the condition of financial surety that was imposed in its May 2019 order. The representation states that most of these persons rendered stateless are also very poor and cannot even afford legal assistance. They also do not have any well-off friends to stand as surety.

From March 2013 to January 2019, only four detenues were deported, according to an affidavit filed by the State of Assam. It is pointed out and under such circumstances "detaining declared foreigners when deportation is not forseeable is unreasonable."

"It is pertinent to mention that detention of "declared foreigners" is not a sentence, detenues are detained to deport to their alleged country of origin."
Representation by Justice and Liberty Initiative

The representation thus seeks release of the detenues, who are in a more vulnerable position in crowded prisons and at a higher risk against the COVID-19 outbreak.

The representation is filed through Advocate Aman Wadud.

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