Arguments Summary Day 7: May 11, 2018

In the previous hearing on 9th April, the Centre was asked to submit a report on conditions in Rohingya Refugee Camps in Delhi and Haryana. Today, the hearing began with an examination of the Centre’s Report. Mr Tushar Mehta, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) explained the findings to the court. He said that the general import of the report is that the camps have all the basic facilities i.e. electricity, proximity to health centres, schools and water supply. Additionally, camp residents are tested for communicable diseases, immunization drives are carried out and free ambulance services are also provided. He concluded from the report that Rohingya are not being discriminated against despite being illegal immigrants and are treated on par with Indian citizens.

Chief Justice Dipak Misra enquired if toilet facilities are avaiable in the refugee camps. Mr. Colin Gonsalves representing one of the petitioners responded that there are no toliets but holes are dug which are treated as toilets. Mr. Mehta said that the Report does not provide a figure on toilets but there is no open defecation. He added that lack of toilets is a problem in many parts of India and the State cannot make a distinction between different parts of the same locality by constructing toilets exclusively for Rohingya.

Justice Chandrachud said that a virtue should not be made of the race to the bottom and no welfare state can justify conditions on such a basis. Mr. Prashant Bhushan, counsel for petitioner brought to the court’s attention that one camp in Delhi was burnt to the ground by someone, who boasted about it on twitter.  Mr. Mehta asked Mr. Bhushan to submit it on an affidavit so that the court can examine the claim.

Mr. Bhushan requested the bench to appoint a court commissioner to verify these claims because the ground realities are different from what is being claimed in the report. Mr. Rajeev Dhavan said that Mr. Mehta’s claim that there are citizens worse-off than Rohingya should be criticised. He said that from Rawl’s to present theory, equality goes upwards and not downwards. Secondly, as the devil lies in the detail, there is a need to see if camps have sufficient access to water, medicines, schools as claimed by the Centre. He requested the bench to form a high powered committee to examine the claims of the Report.

Mr. Dhavan continued that Rohingya should be examined based on ‘need’. There are objective standards of livelihood and accordingly the standards for water, medicine and schooling should be examined in relation to these standards.

The Chief Justice directed that Sub Divisional Magistrates of the concerned areas should be appointed as a nodal officer. The parents of children can take their grievances to such officers if any facilities mentioned in the status report are denied to them. The matter is posted for hearing on August 23, 2018.

(The Report relies on inputs from Ms. Ashrutha Rai.)