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THE NEWS

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has amended the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964, and has empowered district magistrates in all States and Union Territories to set up tribunals to decide whether a person staying illegally in India is a foreigner or not.

BACKGROUND:

  • Last month the Ministry of Home Affairs has convened a meeting with representatives of all States regarding procedures to be followed for the detection, detention and deportation of foreign nationals staying illegally in India and for the deportation of arrested foreigners.
  • These were Chandigarh, Goa, Gujarat, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.
  • With Assam’s National Register of Citizens as the backdrop, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has laid out specific guidelines to detect, detain and deport foreign nationals staying illegally across the country.

WHAT’S IN THE AMENDED FOREIGNERS (TRIBUNAL) ORDER, 2019?

Power to constitute tribunals:

  • The Government has empowered district magistrates in all States and Union Territories to set up tribunals to decide whether a person staying illegally in India is a foreigner or not.
  • Earlier, the powers to constitute tribunals were vested only with the Centre.

Right to approach the tribunals:

  • The amended Foreigners (Tribunal) Order, 2019 also empowers individuals to approach the Tribunals.
  • Earlier only the State administration could move the Tribunal against a suspect, but with the final NRC about to be published and to give adequate opportunity to those not included, this has been done.
  • If a person doesn’t find his or her name in the final list, they could move the Tribunal.

Referring to the Tribunals:

  • The amended order also allows District Magistrates to refer individuals who have not filed claims against their exclusion from NRC to the tribunal to decide if they are foreigners or not.
  • The fresh summons will be issued to them to prove their citizenship.

A LOOK AT THE ‘FUNCTIONING’ OF THE TRIBUNAL:

  • The tribunals are quasi-judicial bodies, unique to Assam.
  • Their main function will be to determine if a person staying illegally is a “foreigner” or not.
  • In other parts, once a ‘foreigner’ has been apprehended by the police for staying illegally, he/she is produced before a local court under the Passport Act, 1920, or the Foreigners Act, 1946, with the punishment ranging from three months to eight years in jail.
  • Once the accused have served the sentence, the court orders their deportation, and they are moved to detention centres till the country of origin accepts them.
  • The 1964 order on Constitution of Tribunals said:
    “The Central Government may by order, refer the question as to whether a person is not a foreigner within the meaning of the Foreigners Act, 1946 to a Tribunal to be constituted for the purpose, for its opinion.”
  • The amended order issued says:
    “for words Central Government may,’ the words ‘the Central Government or the State Government or the Union Territory administration or the District Collector or the District Magistrate may’ shall be substituted.”

WHAT’S THE NEED OF SUCH AMENDMENT?

  • There are around 4 lakh residents who have not filed claims against their exclusion from the final draft of NRC.
  • Recently, the Ministry of Home Affairs sanctioned around 1,000 Tribunals to be set up in Assam in the wake of the publication of the final NRC by July 31.
  • As per directions of the Supreme Court, the Registrar General of India (RGI) published the final draft list of NRC on July 30 last year to segregate Indian citizens living in Assam from those who had illegally entered the State from Bangladesh after March 25, 1971.
  • Nearly 40 lakh people were excluded from Assam’s final draft published last year.
  • As many as 36 lakh of those excluded have filed claims against the exclusion, while four lakh residents have not applied.

WHAT IS NRC?

  • In 1980, during the anti-illegal foreigners’ movement in Assam, demands were raised to update the list.
  • The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and Assam Gana Parishad submitted a memorandum to the Centre in 1980, seeking the ‘updation’ of the list in order to protect the indigenous culture of Assam from illegal immigration.
  • In 2005, a tripartite meeting to review the implementation of the Assam Accord chaired by the then Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh was held and the decision to update the NRC was taken.
  • n 2010, the pilot project of updating the NRC in Barpeta and Chaygaon revenue circles was called off after a violent protest in Barpeta town in which four persons were killed and several others injured.
  • In 2015, applications were invited and around 3.29 crore people of Assam had applied for inclusion of their names in the NRC and around 6.6 crore documents were submitted by the applicants.

IMPORTANT ACTS:

The Passport Act, 1920:

  • The Passports Act of 1920 is an act for the issue of passports and travel documents, to regulate the departure from India of citizens of India and other related issues.

The Foreigners Act, 1946:

  • The Foreigners Act of 1946 aims to grant certain powers to the Interim Government of India in matters of foreigners in India.
  • It is an Act of the Imperial Legislative Assembly which empowered the Indian administration to detain a person until he/she is deported back to his/her own country.

CONCLUSION:

India is among the few countries that have a refugee problem or illegal immigrants but no statutory guidelines are implemented in the country. The initiative is indeed a positive step so far. With this, those left out in the final NRC can challenge their exclusion in these tribunals in Assam and also other parts of the country. The initiative will bring relief to innocent citizens of the country and the cases will be disposed of early.

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