The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Assam government to detail how it plans to release foreigners held in the state’s detention centres who had allegedly entered illegally, PTI reported. The court is hearing a petition filed by activist Harsh Mander, who highlighted the conditions in the state’s detention centres and claimed that inmates were being held beyond their sentences, The Hindu reported.

The court said, “These [detention centres] are not places anyone would like to be. There are about 915 detainees, how long will they continue to be in custody?”

Assam Chief Secretary Alok Kumar reportedly told the court that the state and its task force’s attempts to trace and deport undocumented migrants has been “poor and not satisfactory” in the past five years. Kumar told the court that four out of 46,000 illegal foreigners identified in Assam from 2015-2018 were deported.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi took note of the state’s request to hold the next hearing after the Lok Sabha elections in the state owing to a possible impact of the court’s observations on the polls, Time8 reported. Assam goes to polls in three phases, on April 11, April 18 and April 23. The court listed the next hearing for April 25.

The court asked the chief secretary to submit an affidavit on the detention centres and the state’s plans to release its inmates on or before April 23.

On April 1, the SC had criticised Assam’s chief secretary for failing to be present in the court to answer questions about the condition of detention centres and the prolonged detention of the foreigners. The bench comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna asked the Assam chief secretary to conduct a meeting of all stakeholders in the case.

Meanwhile, the state on Tuesday told the court that it will set up 1,000 tribunals to deal with pleas of those who have been left out of the National Register of Citizen and that Rs 900 crore would be required to set up the tribunals. The court questioned the viability of the proposal. “Which good advocate would leave his practice and come for a three-year term as a tribunal judge?” Gogoi asked.

The National Register of Citizens is scheduled to be published on July 31, which is the Supreme Court’s deadline.

The stated aim of the NRC is to separate genuine Indian citizens in the state from undocumented migrants. According to the terms, anyone who cannot prove that they or their ancestors entered the state before midnight on March 24, 1971, will be declared a foreigner. The exercise has been embroiled in several controversies, including allegations of bias against Bangladeshi Muslims.

The final draft of the register, published on July 30, had left out nearly 40 lakh people, including some MLAs and a former chief minister. Those excluded will come under the purview of the Foreigners’ Tribunals and will have to prove their citizenship or face unlimited detention if they fail to do so. The Centre in December 2018 had extended by six months the date to complete updates to the draft register.