The Assam government on Monday told the Supreme Court that at least 70,000 people declared illegal migrants in the state who were to be deported are not traceable, News18 reported. In an affidavit submitted before a bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the migrants who were declared foreigners by local tribunals have mixed with the local crowd.

The court was hearing a petition filed by activist Harsh Mander against detention centres in Assam. Mander had visited three districts in January 2018 in his capacity as a Special Monitor for minorities and communal violence for the National Human Rights Commission. He had then submitted a report pointing out several flaws in the process to identify and incarcerate so-called foreigners in Assam. But as the committee failed to act on the report, he quit from the position.

The Supreme Court pulled up the Assam government after its chief secretary failed to be present in the court to answer questions on foreigners. The bench ordered that the chief secretary be present on April 8, when the next hearing is scheduled. The court ordered the chief secretary will not go back to Assam until allowed by the court.

“Your government is playing around with the orders of this court,” the bench told Mehta. “Your affidavit is an exercise in futility. Despite all your non-cooperation, we can pass orders under our constitutional powers. Should we do that?”

The bench, also comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, said: “What is the number of declared foreigners who have amalgamated with the local population? This is why we wanted your Chief Secretary to remain present.”

When the court was about to issue a non-bailable warrant for the chief secretary, the solicitor general urged the bench against taking the coercive step, the Hindustan Times reported.

Detention centres

Six overcrowded jails in Assam double up as detention centres, holding over 1,000 people in all. Last year, the state got sanction from the Centre to build the first standalone detention camp, capable of housing 3,000 people.

Quasi-judicial Foreigners’ Tribunals determine if individuals being tried are foreigners and should be deported. Those deemed to be foreigners are transferred to detention centres. Several flaws have been identified in this process, from the brief window of time given by the border police to produce proof of citizenship to the lack of legal aid to ex-parte orders declaring individuals foreigners without even a trial.