Marium Khatoon v. State of Bihar, CWJ No. 390 of 2020

Read the judgment here.

Date of decision: 18-08-2021

Court: Patna High Court

Judges: Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice S. Kumar

Summary: The Patna High Court intervened and expedited a matter for repatriation of two Bangladeshi illegal migrants staying in an After Care Home in India. The court conducted an investigation of these Homes and ordered the State Government to set up Detention Centres for such migrants in accordance with Central Government guidelines.

Facts: Two minor Bangladeshi migrants were arrested from the Patna Railway Station and kept in After Care Homes (Nari Niketan) for several years. The two migrants were admittedly illegal migrants who had entered India without valid documents. Their repatriation was still pending. The question to be addressed was about the conditions in which foreign citizens who had been prosecuted, convicted and had completed their sentence, were being kept. The court constituted a committee of three advocates to look into the conditions of the After Care Home in a fair manner. The Committee reported that migrants were being treated well, with no sexual/mental harassment or slavery, appropriate medical assistance, nourishment and tutoring. Meanwhile, the two migrants were deported back to Bangladesh. The amicus argued that such migrants should not be staying in such Homes and instead the State should create a Holding Centre or Detention Centre for migrants arrested in the State of Bihar.

Holding: The court held that such Detention Centre could not be created within the jail and must be created in terms of the instructions given by the Central Government. It is a primary duty of the State to create such Detention Centres. It was also held that it is a duty of the Union of India to respond to the court’s queries, including all its Departments and Ministries. Accordingly, the State eventually took up the setting up of such Detention Centres. The court further asked for details about (a) the time frame for setting up of the Detention Centre, (b) whether the temporary Detention Centre is equipped with the requisite minimum infrastructure stipulated under Chapter-4 of Model Detention Centre/Holding Centres/Camp Manual, 2019, (c) what steps have been taken by the State Government for sensitizing the general population of Bihar about the mechanism of identifying and deporting illegal migrants from Bangladesh, and (d) steps taken to digitalize the records sought to be maintained under Section 6 and Section 7 of the Foreigners’ Act 1946.

The matter currently stands pending and the State Government is yet to reply to the court.

Significance: Both, the judgment as well as the action of the executive here are quite irregular. As has been stated by an advocate of the Calcutta High Court, “Ideally, a legal proceeding should come to a halt as soon as the subject matter of such proceeding is exhausted. In this case, the writ petition ought to have been disposed of as soon as deportation took place, as the fate of all concerned persons was decided.” On the executive’s part, the two migrants were kept in the Nari Niketan, instead of being tried under the Foreigners’ Act. Yet, the court never called this into question. The court’s order is also plagued with several factual inconsistencies, such as there being three and not two women from Bangladesh who had been arrested and placed in the Nari Niketan and that the women had been minors at the time of their arrest. Moreover, the foreigners in question were women who were victims of cross-border human trafficking. In 2015, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between India and Bangladesh on bilateral cooperation on matters concerning the cross-border trafficking of women and children between India and Bangladesh. The MoU sets out the process for repatriation of victims of trafficking, and the language used suggests that trafficked women and children are not to be treated as illegal migrants, but as victims, and repatriated accordingly. The court fails to account for the fact that victims of trafficking are accorded treatment distinct from other categories of foreigners. The fact that the court reached its conclusion despite these inconsistencies shows that the women and their predicament were completely sidelined, and were rather used by the court to make a policy decision about detention centres, in a case instead concerning repatriation of victims of human trafficking.. 

The court’s concern here for human rights violation can be appreciated, especially in the context of the horrible conditions in the Assam Detention Camps. While the Central Government’s Model Detention Centre/Holding Centres/Camp Manual, 2019 lay down some standards for humane treatment of detainees, it has been criticised for being far too ambiguous, putting into question the court’s insistence on establishing these Detention Centres.

Resources:

  1. Neel Madhav How a Trafficked Woman’s Petition Is Being Used to Push for Detention of ‘Illegal Migrants’, The Wire, 3 September 2021.  
  2. Where hope fades and time stands still: Assam’s Detention Camps, Citizens for Justice and Peace, 13 November 2018.
  3. Vijaita Singh, Explained: Indian Home Ministry’s guidelines on migrant camps, The Hindu, 4 August 2019.
  4. Ruhi Tewari, Modi govt sets norms for ‘model’ detention camps to ensure dignity of ‘illegal foreigners’, The Print
  5. Deborah Grey, Ambiguous guidelines for ‘model’ detention camps raise questions, CJP, 28 November 2019.
  6. Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, Conditions of Foreign Prisoners, 2 July 2019.
  7. Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, Detention Centres in the Country, 24 July 2019.
  8. Sparsh Upadhyay, Deportation Of Illegal Migrants Is Of Paramount Importance, In National Interest: Patna High Court Directs Govt To Sensitize People Of Bihar, LiveLaw, 28 August 2021.

This case note is part of Parichay’s ongoing project to study, track, and publish key propositions and latest developments in citizenship law and adjudication in India. This note was prepared by Farhan Zia.

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