Guwahati, Monday, February 4, 2019
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Panel hits out at Citizenship Bill, NRC, Foreigners Tribunals
City Correspondent
 GUWAHATI, Feb 3 - “Historical injustice has been done to the people of Assam by successive governments at the Centre and the State by not taking responsibility for migration into Assam and by thrusting the entire burden on the people,” says the interim report submitted after the two-day public hearing by a panel chaired by Justice (retd) Gopala Gowda here today.

The hearing was organised by Supreme Court advocate Colin Gonsalves and some of his fellow advocates and activists at the Don Bosco Institute here.

Around 70 people – who were declared D-voters – from Kamrup, Goalpara, Barpeta, Baksa, Dhubri, Bongaigaon, Morigaon, Nagaon, Darrang, Sonitpur, Golaghat and Lakhimpur districts appeared in the hearing.

The interim report, based upon which the organisers will file a PIL in the Supreme Court, said, “Sensitive areas in Assam, particularly the tribal areas, need extensive protection and effective monitoring to prevent any further demographic decline, to prevent the transfer of land from tribal to wealthy non-tribal community, to reverse the alienation of lands and to prevent any further transgression into the tribal areas. All plans and programmes are required to be effectively enforced in consultation with the tribal communities and cannot be left in the hands of government officials alone.”

Reacting to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, the report said, “There is no doubt that the Bill must be immediately repealed not merely because it discriminates against Muslims but mainly because it will exacerbate the already excessive burden on land and resources. The enactment of the Bill was the height of governmental irresponsibility and political manoeuvring at its worst.”

Commenting on the National Register of Citizens, the report said, “Though the NRC at the time of its introduction and the cut-off date of 1971 may have been a reasonable solution to the Assam conflict at that time, it has by wilful negligence of the Union and the State been sabotaged, leading to a possible irreversible situation that must never again be allowed to arise.”

“Those persons (Hindu, Muslims and other communities) who have resided in Assam for decades and are now excluded from the NRC must be treated with dignity and with the full protection of the Human Rights. They should not be subjected to any punitive action. They should certainly not be incarcerated. Their economic rights and their civil and political rights cannot be abrogated. They cannot be deprived of their land, shops and other properties and cannot have their employment taken away from them.”

The report also criticised the “detention camp system” for D-voters, saying, “The obnoxious detention camps are abhorrent to Indian democracy and the protection of Constitutional Rights and must be dismantled forthwith. That they continued to exist in full view of the Indian judicial system is a sad commentary on the functioning of the legal system.”

“The Union of India must take financial, legal and other steps immediately to correct the historical injustice done to the people of Assam to bring in effective protection for the tribal and other sensitive areas and this protection must be effectively monitored and enforced in consultation with the effected people’s organisations,” the interim report added.

Commenting on the activity of foreigners tribunals, the panel comprising Prof Monirul Hussain, Harsh Mander, Sanjoy Hazarika and Gonsalves, said, “All members of the Foreigners Tribunal not having judicial experience should be removed and all their decisions declaring persons non-citizens set aside. Members of the Foreigners Tribunal ought to be given regular appointment and the extension of their appointment ought not to be made based on the number of persons declared non-Indian. They ought not to be called to the Secretariat and instructed as to how they are expected to perform. In other words, since they perform a quasi-judicial function, they should be insulated from state interference.”

The panel alleged that the Foreigners Tribunals were manned by persons perceived to be close to the government and allegedly appointed with an agenda of declaring as many people as possible as “non-Indian”.

“While poor and illiterate persons were forced to desperately search for documents of ancient vintage which even middle class people would find hard to obtain, the tribunals remained aloof, indifferent and uncaring. Persons declared Indian citizens after a proper trial were often surprised to receive fresh notices from the police and the tribunals and were then ‘re-tried’ and declared non-Indian. Huge confusion existed as to the documents which were to be treated as acceptable requiring cases to be filed right up to the Supreme Court. The agricultural workers, rickshaw pullers and daily wage earners incurred huge expenses paying for legal fees and other expenses. It pushed an already bankrupt community into dire poverty,” the interim report added.

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