The Assam government has exceeded the 45-day deadline set by Gauhati High Court to complete the construction of a detention centre for “foreigners” in Matia town of Goalpara district, reported The New Indian Express. The state government has exceeded the deadline by 33 days as of Wednesday.
“The construction is almost complete,” said the state’s Commissioner-Secretary (Home) Manivannan S.
On August 11, the High Court had set the 45-day deadline on the request of the advocate general, who had sought an additional six weeks to finish the project and to shift the detainees from other detention centres to the one under construction in Matia.
There were about 177 detainees in the various detention centers then, according to the advocate general.
Detention centres are used to hold persons identified as “foreigners” and awaiting deportation or repatriation, or persons waiting for their citizenship claims to be settled. These detention centres are now called transit camps, according to a state government notification.
The Matia detention centre is being constructed at a cost of Rs 64 crore on a 25-acre land. It can house 3,000 people at a time.
Assam currently has six detention centres for those found residing in the state illegally. These are located inside the district jails of Goalpara, Kokrajhar, Tezpur, Jorhat, Dibrugarh and Silchar.
In Kokrajhar, Silchar and Tezpur detention centres, there are 22 children along with nine mothers, according to The Shillong Times. Of the 22 children, twenty are aged above 14 years.
Since 2009, at least 29 detained “foreigners” have died in these centres.
In 2014, the Centre had directed the Assam government to set up at least one exclusive detention centre for “foreigners” so that they are not kept with prisoners and undertrials in the jails.
The Assam government had then planned to construct at least 10 such centres considering the high number of people who would be left out of the National Register of Citizens. The Matia detention centre is the first among the proposed 10 camps.
Assam had published the National Register of Citizens in August 31, 2019. The stated aim of the National Register of Citizens is to separate genuine Indian citizens from undocumented immigrants living in the state. According to its terms, 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, or around 6% of the state’s population, were excluded from the final citizens’ list.
Foreigners’ Tribunals, quasi judicial bodies tasked with deciding on matters of disputed nationality, were supposed to hear appeals of those who have been excluded from the list. If their claims to citizenship are rejected, they face detention.
In March 2020, the Centre had said there were 3,331 people in the six detention centres across Assam, although several hundred have been released since then.
Many of the detainees claim to be Indian citizens who were locked up because they were held as suspects by Assam’s foreigner detection mechanisms or could not furnish adequate documents to prove their citizenship.