The first glimpse of new detention centres for ‘foreigners’ in Assam

Despite the prevailing confusion, construction of ‘concentration camps’ in Assam for foreigners is in full swing

NH Photo by Ashlin
NH Photo by Ashlin

Ashlin Mathew

Even as confusion prevails about the plight of 1.9 million people left out of the NRC, work on the construction of detention centres is in full swing in Assam.

There is confusion because of conflicting statements and procedures laid down. While BJP leaders have been assuring people that people left out will not be automatically detained, the excluded are allowed to approach tribunals and thereafter appeal to the High Courts—which is going to be a long-drawn out process.

So, who will be detained even before the legal processes and appeals are exhausted? And while the state is building 10 such camps to accommodate three thousand people in each of them, there is clearly no way the state can detain even 10 per cent of those excluded from the NRC.

160 Kms away from Guwahati, Assam Government is using local people to build what looks like a concentration camp to detain other local residents left out of the National Register of Citizens and hence deemed to be foreigners.

The detention centre is being built in Domini (Matia), a Muslim majority district in Goalpara district at a cost of Rs 45 Crore and is designed to detain 3000 people.

There are watch towers at the four corners, a police outpost at the entrance and high boundary walls with sharp shards of glass embedded on top. At least that is the plan , said construction workers who have been given the deadline of December, 2019 to complete it.

They have built a water tank, quarters for the officers, but the rooms for the inmates are under construction. An area within the compound has been demarcated for a hospital and a school is being built just outside the building. There will be separate living quarters for men and women. According to construction workers on the site, the buildings are likely to be more than 10 storeys.

The work at this detention centre had begun in December 2018. This imposing centre in Goalpara is one of the eleven detention centres under construction.

The detention centres are being built despite the Supreme Court frowning on the state separating parents from children. At least 25 persons have died in detention centres inside jails in Assam, where they were lodged since they were declared foreigner by tribunals. Currently, the state has six such detention centres inside district jails in Tezpur, Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Silchar, Kokrajhar and Goalpara.

The irony is that most of the excluded have lived all their lives in Assam, have been left out because of poor documentation by government agencies, inefficiency and corruption in the tribunals. What is more while the Home Minister Amit Shah had vowed to deport all the foreigners, the External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has hinted that nobody would be deported.

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Published: 06 Sep 2019, 8:23 AM