21, Nov 2023 | CJP Team
In welcome news for families of 47 inmates of Detention Camps in Assam, the Supreme Court has ordered that they be reunited with their families within 7 days. The court has also ordered that the state government stick to deadlines with respect to the completion of the construction of a stand alone Detention Camp in Goalpara, provision of cooking gas and medical facilities to detainees and most importantly strict adherence to the provisions of a Detention Manual that is currently under production.
The court was hearing a petition regarding Inhuman Conditions at 1382 prisons across India. The state submitted that 47 people in Assam’s Detention camps were due for being reunited with their families and that the process will be completed within 15 days. But the Supreme Court said,
We are of the view that it would be inappropriate to keep the families separated without any valid reason, more particularly since many of them have already been separated for considerable period of time. Therefore, we require the State of Assam to speed up the process and complete it within a period of seven days and in any event within a maximum period of ten days since sufficient time has already elapsed.”
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Laws governing Functioning of Detention Camps
Since, Detention Camps are currently operating out of makeshift facilities at local prisons in Dhibrugarh, Sichar, Texpur, Goalpara, Kokrajhar and Jorhat, these facilities are being run as per the provisions of the Assam Jail Manual. But, but a separate manual detailing the procedure and modalities for dealing with inmates of Detention Camps is being produced. As per a submission made before the Assam Assembly on March 26, 2018, over 900 people are detained at these detention camps and close to 30,000 people have been deported since 1985. According to this submission 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. However, detainees have fewer rights than even convicted criminals serving sentence. For instance, detainees cannot work and earn wages in jail. This is why a separate Detention Manual is necessary. Making the central government responsible for ensuring that the Assam government sticks to the provisions of the manual and all interim circulars and guidelines, the Supreme Court said,
Mr. A.N.S. Nadkarni, learned Additional Solicitor General appearing for the Union of India says that the Detention Manual/Guidelines are under preparation and work is being taken up very seriously. In the meanwhile, some circulars, etc. have been issued. The Union of India will ensure that the requirements of the circulars/guidelines are adhered to by the State of Assam.”
A petition raising several important issues with respect to the functioning of detention camps and the condition of inmates led the Supreme Court to ask several questions and seek clarification on subjects like the setting up of the new detention center, union or families, cooking gas and medical facilities in these camps. The questions raised by the Supreme Court may be read here:
Thereafter the state filed an affidavit responding to each question and giving deadlines for each project that was still in progress. In response to this affidavit, the Supreme Court passed the following order:
The Supreme Court disposed of the petition by requesting the Amitava Roy Committee to look into the issues raised in the petition. It said,
In terms of the signed reportable order, application stands disposed of with the following observations:
“12. We request the Justice Amitava Roy Committee to look into all the issues raised in the application in greater depth in addition to its Terms of Reference.
13. Since we are leaving all other issues open for consideration by the Justice Amitava Roy Committee, the applicant is at liberty to assist the Justice Amitava Roy Committee in this regard.”
Recently, human rights activist Harsh Mander had also moved the Supreme Court highlighting the plight if inmates of Assam’s Detention Camps. Some of his key prayers are as follows:
- ensure the fair, humane and lawful treatment of those persons kept in detention centres in Assam, in conformity with Article 21 of the Constitution of India and international law on treatment of immigration detainees
- ensure that detention of declared foreigners should be the last resort, for a limited period with clear prospects for release; it should be non-punitive and that it should be resorted to only after an assessment of whether there were less restrictive or coercive measures (that is, alternatives to detention) that could have been applied to the individual concerned and which would be effective in the individual case
- ensure that in the rare cases in which detention is resorted to as a last resort and for limited time, families should under no condition be separated during detention