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Assam detention centres: CJI appoints Prashant Bhushan as amicus curiae

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New Delhi, May 2, 2019-

In a high-voltage courtroom drama in the case of Assam detention centres, the Supreme Court on Thursday appointed Prashant Bhushan as an amicus curiae and replaced Harsh Mander, the litigants in the PIL, with SC Legal Services Authority.

A three-judge bench headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi is hearing a petition filed by human rights activist Harsh Mander seeking release of foreigners who have been detained indefinitely. The Assam government is responsible for these centres.

The court order came on Mander’s application in court seeking CJI’s recusal for apparently being biased in the case.

Bhushan initially represented Mander on previous hearings in the case. He strongly opposed the state government inaction in providing humane condition in the detention centres, terming it as a breach of human rights. Bhushan pressed for detenuees’ right to liberty, saying they are being held against international laws.

The court summoned the Chief Secretary and rapped him for the callous approach of the government on such a crucial human rights issue.

Mander informed the court that he is moving out Bhushan, and he will pursue the case on his own. It seemed that Mander was of the view that Bhushan was losing the grip on the case.

The court observed that Mander lacked legal ability to tackle the intricacies of the case; and in his capacity to get Justice for the detenuees, he could potentially damage the justice system.

The court queried Mander on the reason for replacing Bhushan, and on his willingness to present the case himself, without any legal assistance on the legalities involved in the case that concerns living conditions inside the detention centres.

The court said Mander’s application would remain valid for judicial process, but he would not be connected to it.

The court’s observation came on Mander application where he appered to indicate that the CJI is pre-decided, and that, in the interest of justice, he should recuse from the case.

Mander seemed very surprised with the court’s observation. In an earlier brief hearing during the day, Mander appeared to be extremely confident in taking on the case. He appeared before a bench headed by the CJI and upfront asked for his recusal from the case, and said in open court that it seems to him that CJI is biased.

Bhushan, who represented Mander, in the previous hearings, urged the court to set the foreingers free. This would allow them to lead a life of dignity.

Bhushan argued that the foreigners have a constitutional right against indefinite detention, and also right to liberty; and they deserve humane conditions in the detention centres.

The apex court later directed the Assam government to apprise it of “ways and means” that should be be adopted regarding the release of illegal foreigners.

Bhushan said sureties and other conditions such as reporting in local police stations, could be considered in developing the overall framework.

Harsh Mander filed a PIL in February 2019 asking the apex court to look into the matter at the earliest, as the condition of the detunees was extremely poor.

When the matter came up for hearing in April, the court expressed its dissatisfaction with the data provided by the Assam government. More than 900 foreinger are in detention centres, four have been deported and nearly 100,000 have been identified as illegal foreigners, according to the state government data.  (Agency)

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