The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Assam government to apprise it of "ways and means" that can be adopted to release illegal foreigners languishing in the state's detention centres for almost a decade.
Hearing a PIL filed by activist Harsh Mander, through advocate Prashant Bhushan, on the plight of foreign detenues, the court also took note of the state's submissions that the court's "loaded observations" during the hearing of the case may impact Lok Sabha polls in Assam.
It will now be heard on April 25.
A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna decided to hear the matter after April 23, when the three-phase polls in the state conclude.
The plea has alleged that prisoners are kept in detention indefinitely because they are not Indians and are treated as "illegal aliens".
The top court asked the Assam government to consult authorities and file an affidavit on or before April 23, giving details of "ways and means" for releasing over 900 illegal foreigners who are languishing in six detention centres in the state for nearly a decade.
It appointed senior appointed Gaurav Bannerjee as amicus curiae to assist it on the issue of identification and tracking illegal foreigners and their deportation to their country of origin.
The bench rejected Mr Bhushan's submission that Mr Bannerjee be asked to visit the detention centres and submit a report on the living condition there.
During the hearing, the bench virtually grilled Assam Chief Secretary Alok Kumar on not being able to identify and trace the declared foreigners, who have now mingled with the public.
"There were 46,000 declared foreigners in Assam in 2015 but by 2019 only over 2000 are in detention centres and four have been deported to their home land. Where have these foreigners gone? They are not entitled to be here. What efforts have you taken to trace them?" the bench asked Kumar.
Mr Kumar conceded that the state government has not been able to trace them satisfactorily.
The bench asked him to file an affidavit stating that the state government''s track record in tracing foreigners is "not satisfactory" and the performance of a task force to identify the foreigners has been poor.