The Supreme Court ruling on the Foreigners (Tribunals for Assam) Order, 2006, striking it down as unconstitutional has exposed yet again the depths to which the UPA government can fall in pandering to the minority vote-bank. Putting the country'ssecurity and integrity at stake, the UPA government amended in February 2006 the Foreigners Act, introducing the very grounds on which the IMDT (Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunal) Act had been scrapped by the Supreme Court on July 12, 2005. These amendments were applicable only to Assam. Which meant that while in the entire nation one rule and procedures were followed, in Assam, which is suffering the most from illegal immigration of Bangladeshis, the laws were different. Here, the onus on proving a person an illegal immigrant was placed on the complainant.
The language of the judgement this week leaves nothing to interpretation. A bench, consisting of Justices S. B. Sinha and P. K. Balasubramanyan said, ?Though we would normally desist from commenting, when the security of the nation is the issue as highlighted in Sonowal 1 (the case challenging IMDT) we have to say that the bonafides of the action leave something to be desired.?
The court directed the government to detect and deport the illegal migrants under the Foreigners Act, applicable in the rest of the country. This Act rightly puts the onus on proving the citizenship on the accused and not on the complainant. Since the IMDT was introduced in 1983, the number of illegal immigrants detected and deported has been laughably negligible. Against an estimated three crore illegal residents in the states bordering Bangladesh, very few people have been deported by 16 tribunals. Over three lakh cases are pending before them.
The government was unable to explain the purpose or the logic behind introducing the amendments, especially after the court had struck down the IMDT as ultra vires. ?No reasons are given to justify the exclusion. In making the 1964 order inapplicable to Assam alone, when the other states having boundaries with Bangladesh, are still expected to apply that order, the respondents (the Central government) have acted arbitrarily and have not kept in mind the interests of the country. No rational reason has been put forward to justify such a separate treatment for Assam especially in the context of the report of the then Governor [highlighting the problem of illegal immigrants]? the court said.
The Foreigners (Tribunals for Assam) Order, 2006 passed in February this year was challenged by the Asom Gana Parishad MP, Sarbananda Sonowal and Charan Chandra Deka. It was Shri Sonowal who had challenged the IMDT and won the case. Agreeing with the petitioners in this case, the judges said ?the earlier decision in Sonowal 1 referred to the relevant material showing that such uncontrolled immigration into north-eastern states posed a threat to the integrity of the nation.?
The Court also criticised the government saying, ?We have to once again lament with Sonowal 1 that there is a lack of will in the matter of ensuring that illegal migrants are sent out.? What worse indictment of the government can there be?
Responding to the government'scontention that the amendments were brought in response to the complaints from the state over victimisation, the judges said: ?It is not as if the respondents have found the 1964 order (Foreigners Act) unworkable in Assam; they have simply refused to enforce that order in spite of directions by this court. It is not for us to speculate on the reasons for this attitude. Why it was not done has not been made clear by the Central government.?
But the reasons are clear for all to see. The Congress government in Assam as also the Communists in Bengal largely depend on the vote-bank of the illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
The Supreme Court ruling has been welcomed by all the nationalist sections. While the BJP and the AGP have welcomed the ruling with unconcealed relief, the communist parties have tried to raise the bogey of victimisation in the name of identifying illegal immigrants. The Congress, with egg on its face is fumbling for a reaction.
According to the census 2001, there has been a growth in population in the districts bordering Bangladesh ranging from 24.6 to 31.7 per cent, indicating a huge immigration. The worst affected is Goalpara (31.7 per cent). The other districts are: Dhubri, Karimgar, Barpeta, Hailakanti, and Cachar.
The Congress has come to power in Assam with the help of an umbrella organisation representing the Bangladeshi population, illegally staying in India but enjoying tremendous clout.
This is the latest in a series of slap on the wrist the UPA government has been receiving from the courts ever since it came to power. And each time, the government, standing on the support of the non-accountable communists, has behaved in a most brazen manner showing little moral probity. Undaunted by the court verdict, Congress leader and the architect of the IMDT Abdul Mujib Mazumdar has said that the Foreigners Act is not going to solve the illegal immigrants issue as the law was only meant to deal with people overstaying the visa or inadvertently entering the Indian territories.
The court has given the government four months to set up tribunals under the Foreigners Act to take up the complaints against illegal immigrants. If the government would do anything at all is beyond guessing. If it wanted to act, it would have, long before the courts pulled it up.