Delhi’s detention centres deprive detainees of human rights?

Detained in Lampur centre for years, many languish here. HC orders inspection after lawyer points out concerns; also maintains deportation bid unjust — client not Pakistani

Ruma bibi filed a petition in the Delhi High Court when her husband Asif Hossain wasn’t released from Tihar after his jail term ended. He was instead sent to Sewa Sadan Deportation Centre, Lampur. Now represented by advocates Ajay Verma and Mehak Nakra, they point out the detention centre has deprived its detainees of their basic human rights including hygiene, communication with their counsel, and provision of legal aid.

At the same time Advocate Nakra tells us the trial court which had convicted Hossain under charges of Official Secrets Acts, had acquitted him under the Foreigners Act. “Jail authorities arbitrarily sent him to the deportation centre. In fact, during the case there was no proof found that he is a Pakistani.”

But at present the focus of the court, which has ordered a judicial inspection of the place is the petitioners counsels pointing out the detainees were being denied their rights. Interestingly, it won’t be the first time that the detention centre is being accused of such a crime. A decade ago, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), a human rights group had alleged that Pakistani nationals awaiting deportation at the Lampur detention centre were subjected to “atrocities” and were “beaten up”.

PUCL Delhi’s president, senior advocate ND Pancholi says the procedures of conduct for the detention centre are not adhered to. He told Patriot that detainees had gone on a hunger strike against the prevailing condition a few weeks ago. “It ended two days later as the management pleaded with them, and said we shall fulfil all your demands.”

There are presently 76 people detained in Lampur centre, which houses Pakistani’s, Afghanis, many from African countries, and also Europeans. And one of those detained is Hossain. He landed up at the centre during the Covid enforced lockdown, on 14 April, nine years after being arrested. At the time of his arrest it had been three years into his marriage with Bibi – she tells us, over the phone from her home in Kolkata where she lives with their two children.

“I tailor shirts and take care of the household. I last met him (Hossain) about four years back. A friend of his would go visit him and he told me that Asif told him about the problems he was facing.” When we ask her about his citizenship, she replied saying he is an orphan, implying it made it difficult to prove his identity. “He was raised in Kolkata. He is an orphan, that’s why they say this. He has no relatives,” she added.

For Nakra, who is a visiting counsel in Tihar jail, another point of concern is that she has heard of many cases where people have been kept at the centre for years. “There are many detained for 8-9 years. Right now, I understand due to Covid you are unable to move files but what about others? If a foreigner is detained then once he is either acquitted or convicted (lives out sentence) he is sent to the camp. And once there, their embassy confirms them for deportation. (In Hossain’s case) He is not a Pakistani, he is an Indian.”

Advocate Pancholi agrees there are many who have had long drawn out stays at the centre. “There is no difficulty as far as for those from African countries and Europe, they are detained for a month or so and they go away. But Pakistani’s like some of my cases, they have been acquitted by the trial court so they should be deported (but remain here)”.

He cites his own clients as examples. One, Mohammad Hassan, who was arrested in 2007, charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and on other terror charges. The trial court acquitted him, but he was convicted in violation of the Foreigner’s Act as he did not have a passport or visa for which he was sentenced to five years (the maximum sentence) in prison.

“After the completion of his sentence in 2012 there was an appeal filed in the high court (against his release) which remained pending for another three years. The high court (later) also held it in his favour. Then the matter against the HC judgement went to the Supreme Court. The appeal is still pending so they have not deported him yet and he remains at Lampur.” Hassan has been in detention for nine years now.

Another case Pancholi is handling is of Mohammad Kamar, who came to India in 1990. “According to his story, when he was a child, about 7-8 years old his mother took him and went to Pakistan to visit relatives. She died there, and so as a child he remained there with relatives. When he grew up, he decided to come to India. As one would need a passport, he took a Pakistani one, then did not go back violating visa provisions.”

Kamar eventually married a woman – with whom he now has five children – and lived in Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut until 2011, when someone reported him. Found guilty under the Foreigners Act and sentenced to over three years in prison, he completed his sentence in 2015 and was then taken to the detention centre, where he still remains. The Pakistan government is not ready to take him, Pancholi tells us.

“Kamar does have his voter card, and Aadhar card. I filed a case 2017 in the high court and said two years have passed let him be allowed to live with his family after giving a bond, but the government opposed it…There is a SC order for those detained in Assam for over two years can be bailed out with a bond of Rs 5,000. I on that basis applied but there was no response. I filed an application in HC that on the same basis he should be released. The HC has given notice for the government to respond by December 2, and pointed out and asked ‘why are you discriminating’”.

Under existing legal provisions, foreign nationals staying illegally and facing court cases have to be deported to their own countries on completion of their sentences. Those foreigners who have valid passports can be sent back immediately, but in absence of any valid documents it becomes important to first verify their nationality. Such foreigners can be deported only after their nationality is confirmed and they are issued proper travel documents by the foreign mission, which can be a time-consuming exercise.

On 10 July 2019, replying to a question by MP Husain Dalwai, on detention of foreign nationals, Nityanand Rai, the Minister of Home Affairs, had said that States were required to keep “the illegal migrants in detention centres pending their nationality verification and subsequent deportation.” Adding that data on the number detention centres set up and number of foreign nationals detained in these detention centres was not centrally maintained.

Earlier that year the central government on 9 January, had circulated a model detention centre/holding centre manual to all the state governments and union Territories. In Rajya Sabha, in response to MP Dr. Sasikala Pushpa Ramaswamy, MP Rai had said the manual for the centres was to “maintain standards of living in consonance with basic human needs. This includes amenities like electricity with generators, drinking water (including water coolers), facilities for hygiene, accommodation with beds, sufficient toilets/ baths with provision of running water, communication facilities, provision for kitchen, proper drainage and sewage facilities, among others.” Many points out of which are being questioned not just by the petitioner Hossain but also the court which has ordered a judicial officer to visit the detention centre and submit a report to the court.

The order from November 9 stated that “the peculiar facts and circumstances of this case, the Principal District & Sessions Judge (HQs.) is directed to depute a judicial officer to visit the detention centre and inspect the same with respect to the conditions prevailing there.”

“If the concerned judicial officer finds any shortcomings in the detention centre, the immediate steps shall be taken by the concerned authorities to remove the shortcomings within a specified time and the judicial officer shall again visit the detention centre to verify whether the shortcomings have been removed or not. The report be submitted to this Court in a sealed cover before the next date of hearing,” which is the 16th of December.

Lampur is in fact not the only detention centre in Delhi. It has a total of three, the second of which is Mahila Sadan, for women foreign nationals and the third Shahzada Bagh, meant solely for Bangladeshi nationals.

(Cover Image:    Credit – pixabay.com)

 

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