28, Nov 2019 | Deborah Grey
The Modi government had released ‘model’ detention centre a manual in January 2019 containing provisions that would govern the functioning of such facilities across India. Though the manual has not been made public, some information has become available via answers to questions raised in the Parliament.
With the death toll in Assam’s detention camps touching 28, and new detention camps being built in other states like Maharashtra, Karnataka and West Bengal, questions are being raised about the rules governing functioning of these facilities. Some of these questions have been raised in Parliament, forcing the administration to divulge information on what is transpiring behind bars in Assam and what one can expect from the upcoming facilities.
Now that the final NRC has been published, and 19,06,657 people have been excluded from the final list, CJP’s objective is to help these excluded people defend their citizenship before Foreigners’ Tribunals. For this we have already started conducting a series of workshops to train paralegals to assist people at FTs. We will also be publishing a multi-media training manual containing simplified aspects of legal procedure, evidentiary rules, and judicial precedents that will ensure the appeals filed against the NRC exclusions in the FTs are comprehensive and sound, both in fact and in law. This will assist our paralegals, lawyers and the wider community in Assam to negotiate this tortuous process. For this we need your continued support. Please donate now to help us help Assam.
Death and Deprivation in Assam’s Detention Camps
First let us look at the situation in the existing detention camps in Assam, where by the MHA’s own admission, 28 people have died so far. According to a submission made before the Rajya Sabha in response to questions raised by Dr. Santanu Sen, the Ministry of Home Affairs via Minister of State Nityanand Rai said, “As informed by the state Government of Assam, as on 22.11.2019, 988 foreigners were lodged in 06(six) Detention Centres in Assam. From the year 2016 up to 13.10.2019, 28 detenues have died either in the detention centres or in hospitals where they were referred.”
Elaborating on facilities and medical care, the MHA submitted, “As per the information made available by the State Government of Assam, the Detention Centres are equipped with all the basic facilities and basic medical care facilities. Basic facilities like food, clothing, daily newspapers, television facilities in every ward, sports facilities, performance of cultural programs, library, yoga, meditation facilities etc are provided to the detenues in the detention centres. Indoor hospital facilities are available in every detention centre with medical staff. Health checkups of detenues are regularly done by the doctors. Medicines are provided by the District Health Service Authorities and emergency medicines are purchased locally in specific cases, if required. In case of complications, doctors refer the detenues to the nearest Civil Hospitals of the districts concerned and on advice of Civil Hospital Authorities, they are admitted to Guwahati Medical College and Hospital, Silchar Medical College and Hospital, Tezpur Medical College and Hospital, Jorhat Medical College and Hospital, Assam Medical College and Hospital, Lokopriya Gopinath Bordoloi Regional Institute of Mental Health (LGBRIMH) Tezpur and B. Baraooah Cancer Institute, Guwahati.”
According to the submission made before the Assam Assembly on March 26, 2018, Detention Camps have been set up under the provisions of section 3 (2) e of the Foreigners Act 1946 and paragraphs 11 (2) of the Foreigners Order 1948.
It is noteworthy that the six detention camps currently operational in Assam operate out of makeshift facilities in local prisons and currently function as per provisions laid down in the Assam jail manual. But a new stand-alone detention camp is being built in Goalpara and more have been planned across the state in places such as Silchar and Tezpur. More information about Assam’s detention camps is available here.
Detention Camps outside Assam
In January 2019, the Modi government circulated a Model Detention Centre/Holding Centre Manual to all state governments and union territories. During the monsoon session of the Parliament, three Members of Parliament had raised questions about detention centres. While this manual is not available to the public, some information is available via answers to questions raised in the Parliament.
On July 10, in response to questions raised by Hussain Dalwai, the MHA said, “Number of detention centres set up by the State Governments/ Union Territories Administrations and number of foreign nationals detained in these detention centres is not centrally maintained.” He added, “The Central Government has circulated a Model Detention Centre/Holding Centre Manual to all the State Governments/Union Territories Administrations on 9.1.2019 reiterating various instructions issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs from time-to-time with regard to setting up of detention centres. The Model Detention Centre Manual, inter alia, prescribes the amenities to be provided in the Detention Centres including the medical facilities.” The complete submission may be read here.
This led to further probing by MPs. Therefore, on July 16, in response to questions raised by TN Prathapan, the MHA elaborated on the provisions of the ‘Model’ detention center manual saying, “The Ministry of Home Affairs has issued a ‘Model Detention Centre/Holding Centre/Camp Manual’ for implementation and compliance. The Model Detention Centre Manual, inter-alia, prescribes the amenities to be provided in the Detention Centres to maintain standards of living in consonance with human dignity including electricity with generator, drinking water, hygiene, accommodation with beds, sufficient toilets/baths with provisions of running water, communication and medical facilities, provisions for kitchen and recreational facilities.” The complete submission may be read here.
On July 24, in response to questions raised by Dr. Sasikala Pushpa Ramaswamy, the MHA made a similar submission with a few additional points saying, “The Manual covers amenities to be provided in the detention centres/ holding centres for the inmates to maintain standards of living in consonance with basic human needs. This includes amenities like electricity with generator, drinking water (including water coolers), facilities for hygiene, accommodation with beds, sufficient toilets/ baths with provision of running water, communication facilities, provision for kitchen, proper drainage and sewage facilities etc. The Manual also provides for provision of properly segregated accommodation for male and female detainees, deployment of adequate lady security staff commensurate with the requirement of women detainees, special attention to the women/ nursing mother etc. It has also been provided that members of the same family should not be separated and all family members may be housed in the same detention centre.” The complete submission may be read here.
But this leads to even more questions, such as:
1) What does the MHA mean when it says ‘sufficient’ toilets/baths? For example, how many toilets and bathrooms are available per 100 people? Also, who determines if that is sufficient?
2) What exactly are the provisions for communication? What kind of communication facilities are offered to inmates and how often can they use these facilities?
3) What exactly are the recreational facilities?
4) If families are to be housed in the same detention camps, how often are they allowed to interact, given segregation of inmates based on gender?
5) Additionally, there has been talk of ensuring that children at such facilities do not suffer for the want of education. Will schools be set up inside such facilities or will the children be ferried to and from schools located outside the detention camps?
6) As far as medical facilities go, are they restricted to just the physical health of detainees or will mental health professionals also be deployed to help detainees cope with the phycological burden of captivity, something that often leads inmates to engage in self harm?
7) Will such detainees be permitted to work and earn a living in these detention camps, or will they like their counterparts in Assam, be denied this right which incidentally is available to convicted criminals?
8) Women and men are to be lodged in separate accommodations, but what are the provisions with respect to transgender inmates, given how most transgender people are abandoned at birth and rarely have any documents?
9) What happens in repatriation effort with the alleged ‘country of origin’ of the detainee fall through? Will such people be detained indefinitely? Is this not a violation of basic human rights and multiple international conventions on the subject?
10) New detention camps have already been built in Maharashtra and Karnataka. Two camps have been planned in West Bengal. How many more such facilities are planned across India?
Until, these questions have concrete answers, it is difficult to invest faith in a system created by an administration that has openly been implementing an agenda driven by a deep desire to divide and rule… a strategy India has suffered under before.
(Feature Image – DNA India)