As per reports, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a ‘2019 Model Detention Manual’ to all the state governments for implementation and compliance in January. Though NewsClick has been unable to obtain a copy of the manual, based on media reports and an answer to an unstarred question in the Lok Sabha, it appears that the manual has incorporated several features that the state government of Assam incorporated after a petition was filed against the conditions of the detention centres in that state. What may be understood by this is that the model detention centres seek to avoid a serious challenge in the courts.
According to the answer provided by the Minister of State for Home Affairs, G Kishan Reddy, on the subject, “The Model Detention Centre Manual, inter-alia, prescribes the amenities to be provided in the Detention Centres to maintain standards of living in consonance with human dignity including electricity with generator, drinking water, hygiene, accommodation with beds, sufficient toilets/baths with provisions of running water, communication and medical facilities, provisions for kitchen and recreational facilities.”
That this statement sounds similar to some of the records of proceedings in the petition concerning the detention centres in Assam in In Re – Inhuman Conditions in 1382 Prisons should not come as a surprise. On September 20, 2018, the Supreme Court passed an Order, a part of which was for the union government to expedite the process of formulating a detention manual. The union government had requested the Supreme Court an extension of three months time to prepare the manual which the Bench refused. That the manual was sent to the state governments in January would indicate that the union government took the three months anyway. What is ironic is that a petition against indefinite detention in Assam has spawned a document easing the process for detention across India.
Also read: Supreme Court Seeks Information on Assam Detention Centres
As a part of the same question, the Minister of State for Home Affairs also stated that as of June 25, 2016, there was a total of 1,133 persons held in the six detention centres in Assam. Of these, 769 persons had been detained for more than a year, and 335 for more than three years.
The Economic Times mentioned that the states do not require special permission from the union government to establish detention centres. However, what is unclear is whether the manual demands that detention centres have to be mandatorily established. According to section 3(2)(e) of the Foreigners Act, 1946, the union government solely can control the movement of foreigners in India. This power now seems to be shared between the union government and the states.
Another departure from the detention centres in Assam is that the manual does not permit the new detention centres to be established in prisons. This is in line with the biggest criticism of Assam’s detention centres. Further, the detenues will have consular access and families will not be separated. Their detention will continue until they can be lawfully deported. However, how long that process will take is unclear. What this implies is that the establishment of detention centres is a step towards building the infrastructure for detention. Whether there may be future amendments to the laws concerning foreigners is yet to be seen. However, the experience of detention centres and Foreigners Tribunals in Assam does not give one much hope in this regard.
Also read: Detention Centres: A Balancing Act in Assam