Allowing a writ petition filed by Asom Gana Parishad MP Sarbananda Sonowal, a three-judge Bench of Chief Justice R C Lahoti, Justice G P Mathur, Justice P K Balasubramnyan, in an unanimous decision declared the 1983 Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act and Rules framed in 1984 as "ultra vires" of the Constitution.
While Sonowal had contended that the IMDT Act was only encouraging vote bank politics without addressing the mammoth problem of illegal migrants, the Assam government had supported the law saying it was equitious.
The court directed that all the tribunals constituted under the IMDT Act adjudicating the cases for identification of illegal migrants from Bangladesh would "cease to function" with immediate effect as the parent Act has been declared unconstitutional.
The cases pending before the tribunals under IMDT Act would stand transferred to tribunals under the Foreigners Act, the court said.
Under the IMDT Act, a central Act implemented only in Assam but opposed by the previous AGP government headed by Prafulla Mahanta as well as the NDA government at the Centre, the onus of proving the citizenship of a illegal migrant was on the complainant.
Taking note of the serious problems faced by the north-eastern state from rampant illegal migration, the court directed the Assam government to constitute sufficient number of tribunals under the Foreigners Act to deal with the situation. Reacting to the judgement, Sonowal told PTI "It is a victory for the people of Assam and secular society of the country. People of the state will be highly benefitted from this order and we are grateful to the Supreme Court."
Dedicating the apex court verdict to the martyrs of the Assam movement, the AGP leader said "Now there will be no problem for the government to detect and deport illegal migrants."
The case in the Supreme Court began with a petition by O.P. Saxena of the All-India Lawyers Forum for Civil Liberties seeking identification of all illegal migrants from Bangladesh in India and their deportation.
Subsequently, Sonowal filed a writ petition challenging the constitutional validity of the IMDT Act and its implementation only in Assam.
The five-year-old case before the apex court saw change of stand by the governments in the state and Centre, which changed after the elections. While the then AGP government was all for its repeal in unison with then NDA government at the Centre, the position changed with the Congress coming to power in the state ousting the AGP.
The Gogoi government withdrew the affidavit filed by the Assam government supporting repeal of the IMDT Act and favoured its continuance and the Centre taking a stand that it had no intention of extending the law to other states.