The Lede brings you an exclusive insight into what exactly the Kerala government is planning as regards a detention centre
A project to set up detention centres in Kerala funded by the union government to shelter foreigners who lack proper documents is underway, a senior official confirmed.
Even though there were stories, attributed to unnamed sources, reported in the Kerala media about the plans to set up detention centres in Kerala for foreigners, The Lede is the first to confirm the story officially in detail.
Talking to The Lede in an exclusive interview, Biju Prabhakar IAS, the special secretary in Kerala government's Social Justice Department, said that they have been working on the project as per the instructions of the union government since 2012.
The Kerala government's Social Justice Department has been entrusted to carry out the project and plans to set up the detention centres.
“Currently, we are waiting to get the data of foreigners who are staying in India without proper documents, overstaying after valid documents expiry and loss and also those who have made irregular entry to India, from the Kerala police’s crime records bureau,” said the IAS official.
According to the official, since this June, they have been waiting to get the data from the State Crime Records Bureau.
“Without knowing that we won’t be able to complete the project and send it to the union government. We have been sending reminders to the Crime Records Bureau; however, we have not heard from them so far,” the official added.
The functions to detain and deport irregularly staying foreign nationals have been entrusted to the state governments, union territories and no such data is maintained centrally with the union government.
“Even though we are aware of the requirements needed at the detention centres, including who should be in charge of it and all, we have not yet decided to fix a location and the size of the detention centres as we don’t have data,” the official said, adding that the detention centres would respect the dignity and rights of foreign detainees.
According to the official, it is unfair to put foreign detainees who are under custody due to a lack of required documents in common jails.
In an answer tabled in the Rajya Sabha on a query on detention centres on December 11, 2019, Nityanand Rai, Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs, had said that union government is vested with powers to detain and deport a foreign national staying irregularly in the country under Section 3(2)(e) and 3(2)(c) of the Foreigners Act, 1946.
The answer also added that these powers to detain and deport irregularly staying foreign nationals have also been entrusted to state governments and union territory administrations under Articles 258(1) and 239(1) of the Indian Constitution respectively.
And the minister added in this reply that detention centres are set up by state governments and union territory administration (UTs) as per the requirement to detain irregular migrants or convicted foreigners pending deportation to their native country.
“Instructions have been issued to all state governments/UTs from time to time for setting up the detention centres. Instructions also indicate that state governments/UT administrations will not require any specific approval from the Ministry of Home Affairs for setting up of such detention centres.
Consolidated instructions on the subject contained in Model Detention/Holding Centre Manual have also been circulated by the government to all states/UT administrations on January 9, 2019,” the minister had said.
According to the minister, in a reply to a different question in the parliament, the manual covers amenities to be provided in the detention centres / holding centres for the inmates to maintain standards of living in consonance with basic human needs.
“This includes amenities like electricity with the generator, drinking water (including water coolers), facilities for hygiene, accommodation with beds, sufficient toilets/ baths with the provision of running water, communication facilities, provision for kitchen, proper drainage and sewage facilities, etc,” the minister stated in the Parliament.
The manual also states that the detention centres have the provision of properly segregated accommodation for male and female detainees, deployment of adequate lady security staff commensurate with the requirement of women detainees, special attention to the women / nursing mother, etc.
The minister added that it has also been provided that members of the same family should not be separated, and all family members may be housed in the same detention centre.
Following the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 and Home Minister Minister Amit Shah declaring that the National Register of Citizens will be conducted nationally, detention centres to shelter foreigners, including migrants and refugees, has become a hot topic in India.
In a reply to a question, whether government is planning to keep lakhs of people in detention camps whose names are not there in the final National Register of Citizens (NRC); if so, the details thereof, tThe minister had said that preparation of National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) is governed by the provisions of section 14A of The Citizenship Act, 1955 and The Citizenship (Registration of Citizenship and issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.
Section 14A of The Citizenship Act, 1955 provides for compulsory registration of every citizen of India and the maintenance of NRIC.
“The procedure to prepare and maintain NRIC is specified in the aforesaid Rules,” the minister added.
To a question whether whoever will be declared as foreigner, government will keep them in detention camps for their complete further life or whether government will deport them; and if so, the details thereof, the minister said that the union government has the power to detain and deport irregularly staying foreigners to their native country after following due procedure.
Pinarayi Vijayan, chief minister of Kerala, had declared that the National Population Register (NPR) which will lead to the making of the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) aimed at finding overstaying irregular migrants and foreigners will not be conducted in Kerala.
However, the Kerala official confirms that a detention centre plan is on.
Meanwhile, late Tuesday afternoon, the Kerala government issued a note stating that reports claiming that the government is planning to set up detention centres are factually incorrect.
“Rumours spread by certain centres is baseless,” the note said.
“In 2012 August, the central government had asked state governments to propose to set up detention centres to shelter foreigners who have entered irregularly, overstaying with expired visa, passport and those who are staying here after completing jail term. Following this, in 2015 November, the state home affairs had convened a meeting where, DGP, ADGP, intelligence officials and jail department IG attended the meeting,” the note said adding that decision to set up detention centres were decided.
“It was decided that detention centres will be set up under state social justice department, state housing board department will find the building and police department will provide officials,” the note added.
According to the note, in 2016 February, a recommendation to set up detention centres was entrusted with the director of the social justice department.
And following that, a managing committee including the Social Justice Department district officer and the district police superintendent was set up.
The note says that the government asked the secretary of the Social Justice Department to know how many could be sheltered and also the state police criminal records bureau.
“However, the government has not received any response yet. But the government was getting reminders from the union government,” the note says adding that none of the ministers in the state government have seen any file so far regarding this.
The note concludes that the government has ordered to stop all proceedings regarding this project.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Kerala Assembly passed a resolution demanding that the CAA, a legislation ratified by both Houses of Parliament and the President, be scrapped.
The chief minister also added that there will be no detention centres built in Kerala.
“I want to make it clear that no detention centres will come up in Kerala. Kerala has a long history of secularism, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, everyone reached our land. Christians and Muslims reached Kerala in the very beginning. Our tradition is of inclusiveness. Our assembly needs to keep the tradition alive,” Pinarayi said.
The resolution — the first such move by a state against the CAA — was moved by Pinarayi and seconded by Congress leader and Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala.
The CPM and Congress had organised a joint protest against the law in the state.
"The CAA is part of an agenda. Muslims are being considered as internal enemies by RSS, who is controlling the ruling dispensation at the Centre," he alleged.
The CAA 2019 grants citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Buddhists and Christians fleeing religious persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who came to India on or before 31 December 2014.
Meanwhile, hours after the Kerala resolution was passed, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters that Pinarayi should “seek better legal advice”. Prasad was in Kerala.
“It is only the Parliament which has got the powers to pass any legislation with regard to citizenship, not any Assembly, including the Kerala Assembly,” Prasad said.
Later, BJP Rajya Sabha MP GVL Narsimha Rao filed a petition with Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu seeking to initiate contempt proceedings against Vijayan for stating “that the ‘unconstitutional Bill’ will have no place in Kerala and the state will not implement it,” and asking “people to oppose the CAA”.
Rao sought a discussion on this issue in the next meeting of the Committee of Privileges in Rajya Sabha, of which he is a member, on January 03.
On Wednesday, meeting the media, Pinarayi said that the resolution was passed by Kerala Assembly against the “unconstitutional act” passed by the union government. "The resolution passed by Kerala Assembly is against the unconstitutional Act passed by the Centre. It has been noticed by the whole country," Pinarayi said.
“If what Biju Prabakar IAS, Kerala Social Justice Department Senior Official who is in charge of the detention centre project in Kerala, says is true, then we should believe that there will be a detention centre set up in Kerala,” Roy Mathew, senior journalist and political analyst told The Lede.
“Even when the project was on under the state government, it is quite hard to believe the denials from the Kerala government. When the media reported about detention centre project quoting unnamed sources, as usual, the government reacted and they have ordered to stop the project.
If a project has to be stopped, then we have to assume that it was on, and the government didn’t even know about it. In setting up detention centres, the union government has a vital role, so we have to wait and see on what will happen in the future.
Even in the CAA, NRC and NPR, I feel that it is quite hard to bypass the union government’s diktats. It’s really a wait and see situation,” he said.
On November 11, the union government had said in Parliament that detention centres are set up by State Governments/UT Administrations as per their requirement to detain illegal migrants/foreigners who have completed their sentence pending their deportation to their native country.
“At present, detention centres have been set up only in the state of Assam,” the minister of state at the Ministry of Home Affairs had said adding that as per the information made available by Assam, 181 declared foreigners and 44 convicted foreigners have completed more than three years in detention.
The minister also added that as per the information made available by Assam, 289 declared foreigners have been detained in the year 2019.
However, in a different document placed before the Parliament, it is revealed that 63,959 people have been declared foreigners through ex-prate proceedings by Foreigners’ Tribunals in Assam from 1985 to 28 February 2019.
Interestingly, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that there are no detention centres in India.
However, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi accused Modi of “lying” about the construction of such buildings.
"The RSS's prime minister is lying to Bharat Mata," Rahul Gandhi said in a tweet.
Gandhi was tweeting about the detention centre coming up in Matia.
The Home Ministry in 2018 had sanctioned an amount of Rs 46.41 crore in order to construct this compound. It spreads over a stretch of 28,800 sq ft of land at Matia, 129 km away from Guwahati.
At present, Assam has six detention centres. They are running from jail premises in Dibrugarh, Silchar, Tezpur, Kokrajhar, and Goalpara districts.
In cases where the foreigner is arrested and action is taken under the relevant Acts, he/she is deported/ repatriated only after the completion of sentence/court proceedings, according to a document tabled in the Parliament.
“After the sentence gets completed, the foreigner is lodged in the detention centre/transit camp as an internee, pending deportation.
Such foreigner is repatriated to his country as soon as possible if there is nothing adverse against him and if he/she has a valid passport.
In the absence of a valid passport, deportation is done only after issuance of valid travel documents by the foreign Embassy/High Commission concerned,” the document adds.