New Delhi: Members of the Assam Foreigners Tribunal (FT) were assessed and had their contracts renewed based on how many applicants they declared as foreigners as part of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise, a civil rights body has alleged in a fact-finding report.
In the 2017 performance assessment of the tribunal members, United Against Hate (UAH) has found, those who disposed fewer cases but declared more applicants as ‘foreigners’ were retained, whereas those who disposed more cases but declared fewer applicants as ‘foreigners’ were given a “non-satisfactory” review and had their contracts terminated.
“The criteria of ‘good performance’ is simply as to how many citizens FTs are declaring as foreigners,” said the report released Tuesday.
The UAH report carried a copy of the performance assessment of the Foreigners Tribunal members from 2017 by the state government.
United Against Hate is a civil rights organisation launched in July 2017 by a group of activists, lawyers and civil society members from across India. Senior Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Hegde, former Delhi Commission for Women member Farheen Malik and activist Umar Khalid are some of the people affiliated with the group.
According to UAH, the 2017 assessment report of Foreigners Tribunal members contains a column noting “general views of the govt. upon the member”. The performance of some members has been marked as “not satisfactory”, with comments that their contract “may be terminated”, while others “need to improve” and “may be retained with warning”.
“The performance of FT member in Dhubri district, Mr Kartik Roy who disposed 380 cases during his tenure and declared only 5 applicants as foreigners has been marked as ‘not satisfactory’ and his termination was recommended. In same period in 2017, in Dhubri another FT member Mr Naba Kr Barua who disposed of 321 cases and declared 240 applicants as foreigners has been recommended to retain with ‘good’ performance by the state government,” said the report.
“Their (the FT members’) contract is renewed based on their conviction rate, as if they are jallads (executioners),” said Nadeem Khan, who led the UAH fact-finding team.
The Foreigners Tribunal is a quasi judicial court that will hear the appeals of those who didn’t find their names in the final NRC list published on 31 August. The Assam government has announced that 400 such tribunals will deal with such cases.
‘High Court monitors appointments’
The Assam home and political department, which manages the foreigners tribunals, called the UAH allegations “completely false”.
“All foreigners tribunals enjoy complete independence from the government and the appointments are supervised by the High Court,” Kumar Sanjay Krishna, Additional Chief Secretary, Home and Political Department of Assam, told ThePrint.
In June, 19 members of the tribunal approached a Gauhati High Court bench challenging their termination orders from 2017. The Assam government replied to the plea saying, “The state government, home and political department is the appointing authority and has absolute right to assess the performance of the petitioners.”
Krishna said, “The reason behind their contracts being terminated wasn’t how many people they were declaring foreigners. There were some other reasons.” However, he didn’t specify what those reasons were.
A lawyer in the Gauhati High Court said it’s an “open secret” that the FT members are under pressure.
“There is no uniformity in the rules followed by the Foreigners Tribunals. It’s an open secret that they are under some pressure from the state government and certain judges of the High Court,” said the advocate who did not wish to be named.
“In fact, many of the foreigners tribunal members have an All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) background,” added the lawyer.
AASU had led an anti-foreigners movement between 1979 and 1983 and was among the leading organisations demanding the NRC.
However, BJP’s Assam spokesperson Jayanta Malla Baruah said the state government doesn’t interfere with the tribunals.
“The foreigners tribunals determine who is declared foreigners and who isn’t solely on the basis of the documents produced. As far as the appointment of the members is concerned, the government has no say,” Baruah told ThePrint.
The UAH report also claimed that a large number of cases have been decided ex parte or in absentia, and said the detention centres built to house those declared foreigners have extremely “sub-human conditions”.