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Govt argues – if Rohingya refugees stay put in India, labour rates would become so low that Indians would suffer”

The Supreme Court, on Tuesday, said it would hear the bunch of petitions filed before it on the issue of deportation of Rohingya Muslims only on the “points of law” and asked the parties – Centre and other petitioners – to desist from advancing “emotional arguments”, noting that the case that concerns “humanitarian cause and humanity” requires to be heard with “mutual respect”.

The Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices DY Chandrachud and AM Khanwilkar also rejected the Centre’s contention that the issue of deporting Rohingya “illegal migrant” to Myanmar was outside the remit of the judiciary. “I, for one, believe, from my past experience of 40 years, that when a petition like this comes to us under Article 32 of the Constitution, the court should be very slow in abdicating its jurisdiction,” Chief Justice Dipak Misra said.

The Bench instead asked the Union government to answer if India can live up to its international commitments and protect Rohingya women, children, the sick and the old who are “really suffering”?

“The concern for humanitarian cause and humanity should come with mutual respect,” the Bench said, while asking the Centre and two Rohingya petitioners to compile all documents and international conventions for its assistance.

The Myanmarese government has given its conditional consent to taking back some of the Rohingya refugees, but that issue did not come up in the hearing on Tuesday, possibly because of a lack of clarity on the assurance.

Three senior advocates have sought the Supreme Court’s direction to the Centre against any move to deport the Rohingya refugees on the ground that the ethnic minority will face imminent threat of persecution in their homeland.

Senior counsel Fali S Nariman referred to the affidavit filed by Government of India in which the Centre has dubbed the Rohingya refugees as a “threat to national security”.  Nariman countered the government’s plan to deport Rohingyas saying: “We have been accepting refugees for ages. This problem is not just with the Union of India, but with all the states as well. The major issue in the affidavit is that the government has already ordered all the states to identify all Rohingya immigrants who crossed the boundary of India illegally, to identify them and deport them expeditiously.”

A legal luminary of international repute, Nariman, who introduced himself to the Bench as a refugee from British Burma (now Myanmar), submitted that the fundamental right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution protected all “persons”, including refugees who fled persecution in their native countries.

He said the obligation to grant asylum was universal. “The Government of India has constantly made efforts to substantiate, enhance the rights of refugees. TheAugust 8 communication (the affidavit filed by the Centre in the SC on the Rohingya issue) is totally contradictory to Article 14. It sticks out like a sore thumb in our nation’s policy towards protecting refugees.”

Nariman informed the court that in December 2011 the then UPA government had sent a document to all the states, saying that the Union government was considering amending all the laws related to refugees in which procedures of getting Indian citizenship will be simplified.

The bench said: “This is the first time we are dealing with a case of this nature. The children and women are really suffering in a harsh environment. India should take certain steps to (ensure the safety of) the large body of humanity.”

Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, however, countered prayers for allowing Rohingyas to stay put in India saying: “If the government allows them, the labour rate will become so cheap that our citizens will start suffering.”

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