The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notice to Centre and Assam government on a plea seeking release of persons who have spent more than two years in the foreigners detention centers in Assam.
The petition filed by Raju Bala Das, a detainee for more than 2 years, cites the risk of COVID-19 infection amidst the overcrowded situations in detention centres.
There are six detention centres in Assam, in which 802 persons are under detention, as told by Union Minister Nityanand Rai in Lok Sabha last month.
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.
On May 10, 2019, the SC had directed the release of of all detainees from detention centres who have spent more than 3 years in detention, subject to execution of bonds.
The petition also refers to the Court's order dated 23.3.2020, wherein certain directions were passed vis-à-vis categories of prisoners who could be released on interim bail, upon determination by authorities, in an attempt to decongest jails. Attention is also drawn to the Court's observations when it issued notice to all States and Union Territories in this case on March 16:
Last week an Assam based Public Charitable Trust 'Justice and Liberty Initiative', had filed an application seeking release of all persons detained in detention centres.
It was highlighted in that application 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, the application stated, quoting an affidavit filed by Assam Government in the SC.
"Detention camp is an ideal breeding ground for the virus. Stepped- up cleanings and a temporary halt to visitations at detention camps in the midst of the crisis cannot make up for the fact that ventilation behind bars is often poor, inmates sleep in close quarters and share a small number of bathrooms. It creates the ideal environment for the transmission of contagious disease. Social distancing is clearly not possible in such environment. These camps are like ticking 'time bombs' ready to explode any time. In absence of any quarantine facility inside those camps, detenues are at great risk in the event of its outbreak", the application stated.