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The court observed that “if you cannot deport them to neighboring countries, you cannot keep them in detention indefinitely”.
The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre and Assam government to file an affidavit about the number of people declared foreigners in the last 10 years by Foreigners Tribunals in the state and the number of those repatriated.

Hearing a PIL, filed by activist Harsh Mander on the condition of detention centres in Assam, a bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Sanjiv Khanna sought to know the total number of detention centres, inmates and the period for which they had been kept at the centres.

The court also sought information on “whether all the inmates at the detention centres have been declared foreigners or such inmates include persons whose references are pending before the Foreigners Tribunal”.

It also asked the governments to give a year-wise break-up of “the number of people declared foreigners by the Tribunal in the last decade and how many had been repatriated”.
The court observed that “if you cannot deport them to neighbouring countries, you cannot keep them in detention indefinitely”.

The court asked the Centre and state to file an affidavit with the information it sought within three weeks. The apex court had earlier issued a notice to the Centre and the Assam government on the plea.

Appearing for the petitioner, Advocate Prashant Bhushan raised concerns about the condition of those lodged at detention centres.

The court asked Bhushan how many people are lodged at these centres. Replying to the question, Bhushan said he did not know the exact figure, but there were approximately 2,000 people.

Bhushan further said that the larger issue was whether people can be detained indefinitely because the government has failed to reach an understanding with a foreign country.

Speaking about a US Supreme Court judgement, Bhushan said that the court had said that such people can only be detained for a reasonable time, and if they cannot be deported within the reasonable time, they must be released with some conditions.

CJI Gogoi then asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was representing the Centre and state, about the number of inmates at detention centres.

Mehta replied that there were six detention centres, which had approximately 980 people, who are supposed to be deported.