Express News Service

GUWAHATI: The Assam government has replaced the phraseology ‘detention centres’ by the considerably-softened ‘transit camps’.

The BJP that first rose to power in the state in 2016 riding on the promise of driving out illegal Bangladeshi immigrants can now afford to look at the issue more rationally.

“In partial modification of this department’s earlier notification dated 17/06/2009 and subsequent notifications dated 01/12/2009, 05/04/2010, 24/09/2015 and 01/11/2018, the nomenclature of detention centre is changed to ‘transit camp’ for detention purpose,” a notification issued by the Secretary to Government of Assam, Home & Political Department, stated.

Official sources said one must not read too much into the notification. The sources said the new nomenclature appeared to be more humane.

“This is just a change of nomenclature, basically to humanise the whole thing,” a senior state government official told The New Indian Express requesting anonymity.

“For years, there has been criticism (of the government over the detention centres) by NGOs and others. The change of nomenclature is just to give a more humane look to the whole thing. The phrase detention centres appears like concentration camps,” he said.

The Congress said the BJP is very good at changing names.

“Transit means temporary stay in a place before going to some other place. So what are the legal ramifications of the name change also has to be clear,” Bobbeeta Sharma, who is the chairperson of Assam Pradesh Congress Committee’s media cell, said.

The regional Asom Jatiya Parishad (AJP) said the BJP-led government’s softness on the issue of illegal immigrants was reflected in the notification.

“Transit camp is a softer terminology. It is more respectful than detention centre,” AJP president Lurinjyoti Gogoi said.

Amritlal Das, who is the general secretary of All Assam Bengali Aikya Mancha, said people usually do not stay in a transit camp for a longer period.

“So, for how long will the people be kept in the transit camps before they are deported to Bangladesh?” Das asked.

Advocate Hafiz Rashid Ahmed Choudhury of the Gauhati High Court said transit means temporary.

“Where will the people go from the transit camps? What will be their fate?” he asked.

The detention centres are isolated cells in the conventional jails and the inmates are allegedly treated on a par with the criminals lodged in jails.

Assam has six detention centres where 181 “declared foreigners” are currently lodged. The Goalpara detention centre has 41 inmates, Kokrajhar 11, Silchar 49, Dibrugarh 13, Jorhat 22 and Tezpur 45.

The 181 declared foreigners include 22 children and nine women. They are lodged in the detention centres at Kokrajhar, Silchar and Tezpur. Of the 22 children, 20 are aged below 14 years.

In deference to an order issued by the Supreme Court on May 10, 2019, altogether 273 declared foreigners, who had spent three years or more in detention, were released on bail.

Based on separate orders issued subsequently by the Supreme Court on April 13, 2020 and the Gauhati High Court on April 15 the same year, 481 other declared foreigners, who spent two years or more in detention, were released on bail.

Till April this year, the various Foreigners’ Tribunals, which deal with suspected foreigners, disposed of 2,98,471 cases. Altogether 1,18,616 people were declared Indians while 1,39,900 were declared “foreigners”.

Currently, there is a backlog of 1,36,173 cases in the tribunals.