The Supreme Court on Monday expressed unhappiness over several thousand declared foreign nationals missing and amalgamating with local population in Assam, and summoned the state's chief secretary to appear before it on April 8.
Accusing the Assam government of "playing with the court", the top court also termed the reply filed by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) as an "exercise in futility" and sought to know as to how the persons, declared foreigners by the tribunal, have amalgamated with the local population.
"What is your government planning to do to trace those people who have merged with the local population," said a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi.
"You (Assam government) are saying that the declared foreigners have gone untraceable. How do you intend to identify them and deport them," the bench, also comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the state government.
The top court was hearing a PIL filed by activist Harsh Mander, through advocate Prashant Bhushan, on the plight of foreigners in detention centres. The plea alleged that they are kept in detention indefinitely just because they are not Indians and are treated as "illegal aliens".
At the outset, the bench referred to the figure provided by the government that about 91,609 people have been declared as illegal foreigners by tribunals and out of them, 72,486 were missing and around 900 persons are in kept in detention centres presently.
The bench told Mr Mehta that it had asked the top officer to remain present and asked, "who exempted him from personal appearance. We will issue contempt notice".
The court, which hinted that it may issue warrants against the chief secretary, later took note of the undertaking by Mr Mehta that the top officer would appear as and when asked and fixed the case for hearing on April 8.
The bench asked the government as to what measures have been taken to improve living conditions in detention centres.
On the issue of policy, adopted to deport illegal foreigners, the bench quipped, "Your government pushed back illegal foreigners without even knowing their country of origin. Now you have suddenly grown wise and are resorting to diplomatic channels.
On being told that the government was planning to set up a committee, the bench said: "This is your contemplated future course of action. We are asking about the present steps. Where are they (illegal foreigners) and how will you crack them down... What have you done in last five years."
Disputing the figures on illegal foreigners, the bench said that only over 91,000 have been declared foreigners, and the NRC identified that there are 40 lakh illegal immigrants.
"Further, only 166 have been deported. How will the people have confidence in your government," it asked.
"There is total non-cooperation. The government of Assam is playing around with the court. Your affidavit is an exercise in futility," the bench said.
Mr Mehta said the state government has been doing its "best" to deal with the situation.
MHA, in its recent affidavit filed through Director Pramod Kumar, has told the court that out of about 91,609 people declared as illegal foreigners by Foreigners Tribunals, 72,486 were missing, which was "quite a large number".
Get Breaking news, live coverage, and Latest News from India and around the world on NDTV.com. Catch all the Live TV action on NDTV 24x7 and NDTV India. Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and Instagram for latest news and live news updates.