In the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, a representation has been submitted before the Chief Justice of India S A Bobde seeking the release of all persons kept in the foreigners detentions centers in Assam.
The representation is submitted on "humanitarian grounds" by a voluntary organization named "Justice and Liberty Initiative".
Quoting the recent statement made by the Minister of State for Home Affairs in Rajya Sabha on March 11, it is stated that there are 802 persons in six detentions centers in Assam.
Many of the detenus are old and ailing. At least 10 detenus have died in detention last year, as per the statement given by the Minister of State for Home Affairs. From 2016 till date, 29 detenus have succumbed to various ailments.
In this backdrop, the representation refers to the order passed by the Supreme Court on May 10, 2019, which allowed the release of all detenus who have spent more than 3 years in detention, subject to execution of bonds.
It also refers to the recent direction given by the apex court regarding release of prisoners and under-trials on parole or interim bail in lesser offences so as to de-congest prisons in the wake of coronavirus outbreak.
The representation seeks for extension of similar benefit to all persons kept in detention centres.
"Being human beings, they also have at least the basic right to live and to not die of COVID-19 in the precincts of a prison, which has despicable living conditions", stated the representation submitted on behalf of the organization by Advocate Aman Wadud.
It is highlighted that detention in foreigners detention centre is not an imprisonment due to a criminal act, but is akin to civil imprisonment, as the failure to prove Indian citizenship only entails civil consequences. Detention is supposed to be a temporary measure before the deportation of the person to the country of origin. However, the state has only deported only 4 declared foreigners since 2013, states the representation, based on an affidavit submitted by Assam Government in Supreme Court last year.
"It is pertinent to mention that many of them are languishing due to the ex-parte order passed against them. Moreover, many of the detenus have challenged the Foreigners Tribunals orders which are pending either before the Hon'ble High Court or the Hon'ble Supreme Court", it states.
It also refers to Section 59(3)(a) of the Code of Civil Procedure, which refers to the power of State to release a person from civil prison "on the ground of any infectious or contagious disease".
"It is also a fact that most of the detention centres are now overcrowded, and in the event of outbreak of COVID-19, the result is not difficult to perceive. Moreover, Article 21 applies to all natural persons. The right to life is available to every person, both citizen and alien. Thus even a foreigner can claim this right under Article 21 of the Constitution", it states.
Apart from the release of all persons kept in the detention centres, the organization also seeks a direction restraining Assam Government from detaining any person as foreigner until the COVID19 situation subsides.