If the investigation reports submitted by Assam's Border Police to a foreigners' tribunal in Guwahati are to be believed, Jalal Seikh is both an eighth-standard dropout and illiterate. He fathered five children and also has only four kids. He came to Guwahati in 2013 and worked as a mason, but also arrived in the Assamese capital in 2012 and took a job at a bakery. The 35-year-old Seikh is a resident of Patnarkuti village in the state’s Dhubri district. In late 2015, Babul Kalita, a sub-inspector in the Border Police, accused Seikh of being Bangladeshi, and sent two separate referrals against him, within a span of two months, to the deputy commissioner of police of Kamrup district, for approval to initiate a full investigation.
Over the next two months, Kalita conducted two parallel inquiries—both the referrals were approved as distinct cases by the DCP’s office—treating Seikh as two different individuals living in different localities in Guwahati. He even claimed to have collected Seikh’s fingerprints for both the references. By March 2016, the then DCP concurred with Kalita’s investigation reports and forwarded them to a Foreigners Tribunal in Guwahati for registration of two cases against Seikh, as a foreigner.
As a result of Kalita’s investigations, Seikh has been declared a foreigner twice by the tribunal—first in November 2017 and then in December 2018—and has approached the Gauhati High Court after both decisions. The court had set aside the first ruling in April 2018 and ordered a retrial, which led to Seikh’s second conviction. Seikh is still waiting for the high court’s decision on his second review petition. His case demonstrates everything that can go wrong with a Foreigners Tribunal, a quasi-judicial body with the power to regulate its own procedure. It shows how a tribunal can put an individual on trial in two cases for the same offence, that each tribunal can chose its own parameters to admit evidence or selectively use the provisions of the evidence act, and more egregiously, that the tribunals could also possibly shield police officials who may have forged evidence to declare a person an illegal immigrant.