The Supreme Court said on Thursday that foreigners who cannot be deported to their home country should not be held in detention centres in Assam forever. The court said it would consider releasing these individuals, provided they were available whenever the authorities needed them, The Indian Express reported.

A bench comprising Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjeev Jain asked advocate Prashant Bhushan and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to suggest how this can be ensured. The court has appointed Bhushan amicus curiae in the case.

Bhushan referred to an affidavit filed by the state government, which suggested that the detainees be made to wear radio collar devices, a surety from two Indians and a bond of Rs 1 lakh. The lawyer suggested that a cut-off period of six months could be set for deportation, failing which the foreigner should be released. However, Mehta said this should not encourage those crossing over into India without documents, in the belief that they would be released six months later.

“Stop them, You evolve a mechanism,” Gogoi said. “You have options. Deport them. You are not doing it. You are only showing us some envelopes.” When Mehta said infiltration has reduced substantially in recent years, Gogoi replied: “We don’t know.”

The court was hearing a plea filed by activist Harsh Mander highlighting the condition of those living in detention centres in Assam. On May 2, it had removed Mander as the petitioner after the argued that Gogoi must recuse himself from the case. The court appointed the with the Supreme Court Legal Services Authority in his place.

Court questions Assam over setting up of foreigners’ tribunals

On Thursday, the court also pulled up the Assam government over its proposal to immediately start 1,000 foreigners’ tribunals all over the state to try undocumented immigrants, The Hindu reported. “A 1,000 tribunals means a 1,000 judicial officers to preside over them,” the chief justice said. “Where will you find them overnight? How many advocates above the age of 35 years would be willing to join? What is the available pool of retired judicial officers?”

The court said the Assam government should have foreseen this problem given that the last date for publishing the final list of National Register of Citizens is July 31. Gogoi said a flood of petitions will hit the tribunals after the deadline passes. “We propose to have 200 tribunals immediately,” Mehta said in response.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court had reiterated that it will not extend the July 31 deadline to finalise the National Register of Citizens. Prateek Haleja, Assam coordinator of the NRC, informed the bench that many people who had objected against the exclusion of their names in the draft National Register of Citizens had not appeared before the panels dealing with such complaints. “Be brave and follow the law,” the Supreme Court bench told Hajela.