The Supreme Court today disposed of the plea seeking the release of over 150 Rohingya refugees in Jammu & Kashmir after the Union Territory’s administration said that it would initiate their deportation to Myanmar.(Mohammad Salimullah v. Union of India)
The Bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian passed the order in a plea filed by Mohammad Salimullah, a Rohingya refugee himself.
The Court made it clear that no refugee would be deported unless the proper procedure was followed.
The plea filed through Advocate Prashant Bhushan sought a direction to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs to expeditiously grant refugee identification cards to Rohingyas housed at informal camps through the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO).
The plea prayed for protection of the refugees’ rights guaranteed under Article 14 and Article 21, read with Article 51(c) of the Constitution. It was stated that the Rohingyas have taken refuge in India after escaping widespread violence and discrimination against their community in Myanmar.
The Central government through Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had opposed the plea, contesting the claim of the petitioner that they are refugees.
“They are not refugees at all. This is the second round of litigation. This petitioner had filed an application (before) and it was dismissed,” Mehta said.
Mehta added that they are illegal immigrants who will be deported as per the procedure established by law.
“They are illegally immigrants. We are always in touch with Myanmar and if they confirm, then they can be deported,” Mehta maintained.
The petitioner however, argued that Union government should refrain from implementing any orders on deporting the Rohingya refugees, who have been detained in Jammu.
“There is a military government in Myanmar now. Their life is under threat,” Bhushan had said during the mentioning of case earlier while requesting for an urgent hearing of the plea.
“Mere fact that a country responsible for their fleeing wants wants them back cannot be a ground to send them back when we know they will subjected to risk. This is the principle of refoulement,” Bhushan submitted.
Interestingly, a Jammu-based NGO, Forum for Human Rights and Social Justice, also filed an application before the Supreme Court stating that the plea to stop the Rohingya deportation must not be entertained since the settlement of the Rohingyas in Jammu was “a part of a larger design” and an attempt to destabilise the country.
The application by the NGO filed through Advocate Rajeev M Roy stated that settlement of illegal immigrants in Jammu “is a part of a nefarious and sinister design to change the delicate demography of the tense and internationally sensitive region of Jammu and Kashmir in order to further certain vested interests”.
The top court had also refused to hear the UN Special Rapporteur in the case after the Centre expressed strong reservations against it.
The Court had referred to the objection raised by Senior Counsel Harish Salve, who was appearing on behalf of the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir.
“Please don’t go into this. UN is not subject to your jurisdiction of the municipal Court. Our government has issues with the UN Special Rapporteur,” Salve had said.