Jail Premises Used as Temporary Detention Centres Not Permissible: Gauhati HC
Foreigner detenues cannot be confined to prison and be deprived of the basic human rights and human dignity as they are not criminals
The Gauhati High Court (GHC), on 7th October last, held that the people declared as foreigners cannot be kept in jails as they are not criminals and the state government needs to set up proper detention centres for such peple awaiting deportation. It ruled that jails being used as detention centres were in conflict with the model manual for such centres.
A bench comprising Justice Achintya Malla Bujor Barua stated that detainees “cannot be confined to prison and be deprived of the basic human rights and human dignity.” The court also asked the authorities in the state government’s Home and Political Affairs department to submit an Action Taken Report within the next returnable date on the steps that have been taken to set up detention centres outside the jail premises.
The decision was taken while hearing a cluster of petitions related to the issue of the manner in which detention centres for keeping foreigners/illegal migrants, mostly Bangladeshi migrants awaiting deportation/repatriation to the countries of their origin or waiting for an adjudication of their respective claims, are to be operated by authorities.
The GHC, referring to a Supreme Court order from 2012 in the Bhim Singh versus Union of India case mentioned, “The Supreme Court had clearly provided that the detenues be kept at an appropriate place with restricted movements pending their deportation/repatriation and the places where they are to be kept may be detention centres or whatever name such places are called but must have the basic facilities of electricity, water and hygiene etc.”
In compliance to the apex court’s order, the Ministry of Home Affairs had, in 2012, asked all states and union territories that such category of persons be released from jails immediately and they may be kept at an appropriate place outside the jail premises with restricted movement pending repatriation. Further, it pointed at the Supreme Court’s order that if such persons cannot be repatriated and have to be kept in jail, they cannot be confined to prison and be deprived of the basic human rights and human dignity.
The Home Ministry’s order mentioned, “Such Detention Centres/Holding Centres/Camps should be set up outside the jail premises and it may please be ensured that all the basic amenities like electricity with generator, drinking water (including water coolers), hygiene, accommodation with beds, sufficient toilets/baths with the provision of running water, provision for kitchen, round the clock security arrangement, sentry posts and guard room etc are provided.
There should be sufficient open space within the compound for detainees to move around in a secure environment. There should be properly segregated accommodation for male and female detainees. There should be a proper boundary wall with dense barbed wire fencing above the boundary wall. The staff posted should be well trained to ensure that the detainees are treated with due dignity. Provision may also be made for medical attendance for the detainees.”
Following the ruling of the apex court of the country, Justice Bujor Barua asked the Assam government to consider hiring government and private buildings if appropriate suitable accommodation is not available and the acquisition of land and construction is pending for the purpose of setting up the detention centres.
The petitions informed the court that parts of the jail premises of Goalpara, Kokrajhar, Jorhat, Silchar, Dibrugarh and Tezpur had been declared detention centres by the authorities as temporary measures following the Home Ministry’s order.
"In the instant case, part of the jail premises in Silchar and Kokrajhar in April 2010, in Jorhat, Dibrugarh and Tezpur in September 2015 and in Goalpara jail premises on December 1, 2019, it is discernible that more than 10 years have gone by since a part of the jail premises in Kokrajhar and Silchar had been declared to be detention centres. Certainly, a period of more than 10 years cannot be understood to be a temporary arrangement. Even in respect of Jorhat, Dibrugarh and Tezpur, a period of five years is over, which also again can not be strictly said to be a temporary arrangement," said the HC order.
“Considering the said aspect, it cannot be accepted that the respondents can still rely upon the communication dated 07.09.2018 to project the case that it would be permissible to declare a part of the jail premises to be detention centres,” it added.
Actual condition of detention centres of Assam
In March this year, Union Minister of State for Home, G Kishan Reddy, answering to a question in the Lok Sabha, informed that as many as 3,331 people have been lodged at the six detention centres in Assam. The Tezpur centre has 797 people, Silchar has 479, there are 680 at Dibrugarh, 670 at Jorhat, 335 at Kokrajhar and 370 at Gaolpara. The minister however said that there is no National Register of Citizens (NRC) detention camp in Assam.
However, many detainees have been granted conditional bail due to the coronavirus pandemic and court orders.
On different occasions, several organisations have complained about the living conditions of the detention camps. A visit in 2016 to one of one of the detention centres in Kokrajhar only offered a glimpse of the pathetic conditions the inmates live in , reported national media. Reddy in his statement also declared, “Ten inmates of the six detention centres in Assam, where declared foreigners/convicted foreigners are kept, died in different hospitals from March 1, 2019 to February 29, 2020.”
Earlier in October 2019, the Assam government had constituted a Special Review Committeee to review the prevailing conditions of the six detention centres. The Committee headed by DIG (Border) comprised Inspector General of Prisons, District and Session Judge Hardeep Singh (Retd.), one representative to be nominated by Deputy Commissioner of the concerned district, and any other member co-opted by the Chairman.
“The committee will visit all detention centres in the state and review the legal aid status and health status of each detainee and provide recommendation for improvement if needed,” said a release issued by chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal’s office.
The committee was also to review the quality of food provided to the detainees and the living conditions in the detention centres. The committee was asked to submit its report within three months.
A new detention facility is currently under construction at Matia, Goalpara with a capacity to accommodate 3,000 people. It is the first stand-alone detention camp which is constructed with an investment of Rs 46 crores.
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