The State Department of Social Justice (DSJ) on Friday clarified that the Kerala government had no plans of setting up detention centres. This clarification was prompted by a news report in The Hindu which said that the state was looking for buildings to detain illegal foreign nationals who were awaiting deportation.
"There is no such detention centre being planned here. This was a proposal which was made way back in 2012 by the former UPA government. The correspondence regarding this proposal is only happening now. The intention was to offer a dignified stay to illegal foreign nationals awaiting deportation. Sometimes these foreigners are even housed in jails, when they have done no crime," Biju Prabhakar IAS, Secretary, DSJ told TNM.
The BJP government in the Centre has triggered nationwide protests after Home Minister Amit Shah announced that the controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC) will be implemented across India and 'illegal immigrants' would be housed in detention centres. The NRC, which is a citizen's register, seeks to identify illegal immigrants by asking people to prove their citizenship with relevant documents. The exercise has already been conducted in Assam, resulting in nearly 19 lakh people being left out of the register. Many of these people have been moved to the six detention centers built in the state for failing to prove their citizenship.
The NRC coupled with the recently passed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) have sparked massive protests in the country, including in Assam, with dissenters believing that the exercise would lead to the widespread disenfranchisement of Muslims and poor people from other religions in India. The CAA aims to grant expedited citizenship to refugees belonging to six religions - Hindus, Christians, Jains, Parsis, Sikhs and Budhhists in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, excluding Muslims.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has strongly condemned the NRC and the CAA planned by the BJP. He also joined West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee in stopping all works related to the National Population Register (NPR) in Kerala, as this data would be used to prepare the National Register of Citizens.
CMâ€™s statement after media reports on detention centre
Following the controversy around detention centres being planned in Kerala, Chief Minister Pinarayi's office released a detailed explanation on the issue.
The statement revealed that it was the former UPA government which had proposed detention centres to be set up to house illegal foreign nationals. The government had written to home secretaries of the states to come up with proposals back in 2012.
"These centres were to house foreign nationals who have illegally entered the country, those whose have stayed on illegally even after their visas and passports have expired, convicts who have completed their jail term and are awaiting the completion of the legal steps taken by the state for deportation," the statement said. In 2015, a high-level meeting attended by top bureaucrats in the state decided that the project would come under the Social Justice Department.
Four years later, in 2019, this project mooted by the UPA government was still in the correspondence stage, with the Social Justice Department writing to the State Crime Records Bureau (SCRB) for data regarding foreign nationals housed in Kerala's prisons.
The statement added that the SCRB had not responded to the DSJ's request for data. It also confirmed that while several reminders were received on this during the UPA tenure, 'no files have been seen by any of the ministers regarding this project during the tenure of the present (BJP) government.
"Considering today's circumstances, we have issued any order asking for all measures taken for the execution of this project, initiated by the former government in 2012, to be stopped," the CM's statement said.
The Hindu report
The Hindu report stated that the Department of Social Justice was unsuccessfully trying to get numbers of foreigners housed in Kerala's prisons from the SCRB. The report quoted a government official who said that for the DSJ to decide whether to rent a building or build new centres, the exact number of foreign nationals in Kerala waiting to be deported needed to be gathered.
According to a government response to a question raised in the Lok Sabha, six detention centres have been set up in Assam to house 'illegal immigrants' left out of NRC.
TNM had also earlier reported on a detention centre built in Karnataka, a BJP-ruled state, to house illegal immigrants.
The Hindu report also quoted the Union Government's instruction to all states/Union Territories to build detention centres/holding centres to restrict the movement of illegal immigrants/foreign nationals awaiting deportation. The Union Government had also prepared a Model Detention Centre Manual and circulated the same to all state governments and union territories.