The Assam government has asked foreigners’ tribunals in the state not to pass consequential orders for the detention or deportation of those declared to be foreigners, The Times of India reported on Monday.

The quasi judicial bodies are tasked with deciding on matters of disputed nationality.

In an order issued on September 4, the Assam government said that members of the tribunals can only offer their opinion on a case, NDTV reported.

The state’s The Political (B) Department said it had viewed with seriousness “the passing of consequential directions/orders by learned members while rendering opinion”, according to the news channel.

The department’s deputy secretary Parijat Bhuyan said that during a performance evaluation exercise, the judicial department had studied “randomly selected samples of opinions” given by members of the tribunals, NDTV reported.

Bhuyan said it emerged that orders for “deletion of names from voter list, arrest and detention of the declared foreigners [had been] passed”, The Times of India reported. “This may not be necessary”.

The official added: “[The judicial department] noted that consequential order for deportation etc. of the declared foreigners, passed. This may not be the correct approach.”

An unidentified lawyer from the Gauhati High Court told The Times of India that while tribunals can offer their views on cases, it is the government’s decision to take actions.

The lawyer added: “But FTs [foreigners tribunals] used to pass orders for arrest, detention, deletion of names from voter list, cancellation of ration cards etc. Such orders are being passed beyond jurisdiction and are illegal.”

NRC and foreigners’ tribunals

Assam had published a National Register of Citizens in August 2019. The stated aim of the register was to separate genuine Indian citizens from undocumented immigrants living in the state.

According to the terms of the National Register of Citizens, anyone who cannot prove that they or their ancestors entered Assam before midnight on March 24, 1971, cannot be considered a citizen.

Over 19 lakh people were excluded from the final citizens’ list. Foreigners’ Tribunals were tasked with hearing their appeals against exclusion. Should their claims to citizenship be rejected, they face detention.

Assam currently has six detention centres for those found residing in the state without having proper documents. These are located inside the district jails of Goalpara, Kokrajhar, Tezpur, Jorhat, Dibrugarh and Silchar.

On July 19, 2021 Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had told the Assam Assembly that there were 181 inmates in the six detention centres, The Indian Express reported.

Out of these, 120 were “convicted foreigners”, or those who were held guilty by a court for entering India illegally. The remaining 61 were “declared foreigners” – people who were earlier considered Indian citizens but were declared as not holding Indian citizenship by a foreigners’ tribunal.