In the backdrop of National Register of Citizens (NRC) issue of Assam, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs has amended the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964 that now allows all states and Union Territories to constitute Foreigners Tribunals.
- A Foreigners Tribunal will decide whether a person staying in India illegally is a foreigner or not.
- Before the amendment, the power to constitute a Foreigners Tribunal was with the central government only.
- With the amendment to the order, the district magistrates in all states and Union Territories are empowered to set up the tribunals.
- Till now the Foreigners Tribunals are unique to Assam and they are quasi-judicial bodies.
- In other states, when a person is apprehended for staying illegal, the police will submit them to a local court under the Foreigners Act, 1946 and Passport Act, 1920.
- The punishment under these laws ranges from three months to eight years of imprisonment.
- After the completion of their sentence, the convicted people are deported or placed in detention centres until the country of origin accepts them back.
The 1964 Order
- The 1964 order empowers the central government by stating that “the central government may by order” constitute a foreigners tribunal on the question of whether a person is a foreigner or not.
- In the latest amendment, the word Central Government has been replaced with
“The Central Government or the State Government or the Union Territory administration or the District Collector or the District Magistrate may”
- The MHA has constituted 1000 tribunals so far in Assam in the wake of the publication of the final NRC report in July.
- By the order of Supreme Court in July 2018, Indian citizens were segregated from the foreigners (those living in Assam after entering illegally from Bangladesh since March 25, 1971).
- 40 lakh people were declared foreigners by the draft NRC.
- Of these, 36 lakh people claimed for a review.
- The new amended order also allows an individual to approach a tribunal. Earlier, only the state government could approach the tribunal in cases of a suspect.
- The order also empowered the District Magistrates to move the tribunal to ascertain the foreigner status on those who have not claimed for a review. There are 4 lakh people who haven’t claimed for a review.
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- With the final report of NRC set to be released on July 31, the amendment of the Foreigners (Tribunal) Order is timely.
- Recent news reports have also shown how a retire Kargil War veteran was wrongly tagged as a foreigner in Assam.
- The amended order will thus allow such persons to get relief or ascertain their status in a democratic way.