Foreigners Tribunals, unique to Assam, are in the news as the final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is to be published by July 31, on the directions of the Supreme Court. The Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India, under the Union Home Ministry, published the final draft list of the NRC on July 30, 2018 to segregate Indian citizens living in Assam from those who had illegally entered the State from Bangladesh after March 25, 1971.

Nearly 40 lakh people were excluded from the final draft. In the course of the year, 36 lakh people filed claims against the exclusion; the remaining four lakh did not apply. To give a proper hearing to those excluded from the final list and to handle the influx of applications, the Ministry of Home Affairs sanctioned 1,000 additional tribunals. Of these, 400 will come up in the next one month before the final publication of the list.

How many tribunals are there?
Assam at present has 100 Foreigners Tribunals across the State. According to the State’s Home Department, there were initially 11 Illegal Migrants (Determination) Tribunals (IMDT). These were converted to tribunals after the Supreme Court scrapped the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983 in 2005. The State government established another 21 tribunals that year. Four more were added in 2009 and the remaining 64 were established in 2014 for disposal of cases that were piling up in the tribunals.

Who runs the tribunals?
Each tribunal is like a quasi-judicial set-up. It’s headed by a member appointed under the Foreigners Tribunal Act, 1941 and Foreigners (Tribunal) Order, 1984 as in the guidelines issued by the government from time to time. A member can be a retired judicial officer of the Assam Judicial Service, a retired civil servant not below the rank of Secretary and Additional Secretary with judicial experience, or a practising advocate not below the age of 35 years and with at least seven years of practice. The member is also required to have a fair knowledge of the official languages of Assam (Assamese, Bengali, Bodo and English) and the State’s historical background giving rise to the foreigners’ issue.

What is the amended Foreigners (Tribunals) Amendment Order, 2019 that has replaced the 1964 one?
The Ministry of Home Affairs amended the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964 which empowers district magistrates in all States and Union Territories to set up tribunals. Earlier, such powers to constitute tribunals was vested with the Central government alone.

The amended order also empowers individuals to approach the tribunals. Earlier, only the State administration could move the tribunal against an illegal foreigner. It also says that the final order of the tribunal shall be given within a period of “one hundred and twenty days (four months from the date of production of the records”.