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Foreigners Tribunals

Topics Covered: Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.

Foreigners Tribunals

What to study?

For Prelims: Composition, need, powers and functions of these tribunals.

For Mains: Concerns over their functioning and reforms needed.

Context: A series of judgments delivered by the Gauhati High Court over the course of the last few weeks has brought into sharp focus the utter brutality of the regime governing the Foreigners’ Tribunals in Assam.

 What is a Foreigners tribunal?

In 1964, the govt brought in the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order.

Composition: Advocates not below the age of 35 years of age with at least 7 years of practice (or) Retired Judicial Officers from the Assam Judicial Service (or) Retired IAS of ACS Officers (not below the rank of Secretary/Addl. Secretary) having experience in quasi-judicial works.

Who can setup these tribunals?

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has amended the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964, and has empowered district magistrates in all States and Union Territories to set up tribunals (quasi-judicial bodies) to decide whether a person staying illegally in India is a foreigner or not.

Earlier, the powers to constitute tribunals were vested only with the Centre.

Typically, the tribunals there have seen two kinds of cases: those concerning persons against whom a reference has been made by the border police and those whose names in the electoral roll has a “D”, or “doubtful”, marked against them.

Who can approach?

The amended order (Foreigners (Tribunal) Order, 2019) also empowers individuals to approach the Tribunals. Earlier, only the State administration could move the Tribunal against a suspect.

 How a person is declared foreigner by these tribunals?

Foreigners Tribunals, quasi-judicial authorities in Assam, have been deciding on matters pertaining to citizenship in order to identify foreigners.

  1. The process begins by the border police or the Election Commission referring the case of a suspected foreigner to the Foreigners Tribunal.
  2. The tribunal calls on the person to appear before it and prove that they are not a foreigner, and then passes an order in favour or against them.

Identity documentation:

  1. Persons appearing before Foreigners Tribunals need to produce identity documentation proving that they were born in India and are descended from persons who entered India before March 24, 1971.
  2. Such persons are allowed to produce secondary evidence such as university certificates or gaon panchayat certificates for this purpose. 
  3. However, in order for such secondary evidence to be considered valid proof of their presence in India pre-1971, the person issuing the certificate must appear before the tribunal to testify and prove that the document is genuine.

What’s the issue now?

One in two people are declared foreigners because issuing authorities fail to appear before the Foreigners Tribunals to testify that the documents produced are genuine and true to their knowledge. The consequence of this lackadaisical approach is a drastic loss of right and liberty.

Reforms needed:

  1. Any such exercise demands a robust process that minimizes data infirmities.
  2. This would mean a complete rehaul of the methods used in Assam.
  3. Also, those who don’t make it to the list should get adequate legal recourse.

Need for reforms:

A person’s citizenship is a basic human right. Declaring people foreigners in haste without judicially verifying their credentials can leave many human beings stateless.

Insta Link:

Prelims Link:

  1. Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) (IMDT) Act vs Foreigners Tribunal (Order) 1964.
  2. Burden of proof under this order.
  3. Powers to approach the tribunal and kind of cases to be decided by the tribunal.
  4. Composition of the tribunal.
  5. Tribunals vs Courts.
  6. NPR vs NRC.
  7. Geographical location of Assam and other NE states.
  8. Refugee vs illegal Migrants.
  9. Fundamental Rights available for Foreigners and other constitutional provisions wrt to Foreigners.
  10. Human Rights vs Fundamental Rights.

Mains Link:

Discuss briefly the laws that are in place to tackle illegal non-citizens in the country. Why was the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964 amended? Explain.

Sources: the Hindu.