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Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Why sleep over repatriation of foreign prisoners, asks court

All prisoners in jail should be sent back within a month

The Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed serious concern over the inordinate delay in the release and repatriation of foreigners languishing in Indian jails even after completing their sentences.

A Bench of Justices R.M. Lodha and H.L. Gokhale, hearing petitions, directed the Centre to deport all foreigners in prison within a month to their countries, mostly Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Iran. It directed the Union Home Ministry to submit a compliance report by February 28.

Ad hoc steps

The Bench pointed out that the government had been taking only ad hoc steps, that too at the instance of the court for deporting those who had completed their sentences and whose nationalities had been established through diplomatic channels.

Violation of Article 21

Justice Lodha said: “This amounted to a gross violation of Article 21 of the Constitution relating to personal freedom. We are constrained to observe that the government has failed to appreciate the urgency and allowed the matter relating to repatriation of a large number of prisoners to linger, ignoring their right to liberty.”

Referring to the Home Ministry's affidavit filed in November last, the Bench said, “It showed that the deportation of some of the foreign nationals was withheld because of the delay in providing special consular access.” Having a dig at bureaucratic delay, Justice Lodha said, “We don't want bureaucrats to sleep over the files.”

The court said that under Clause 4 of the May 21, 2008 Indo-Pak agreement, the two governments should provide nationals of either country consular access within three months of their detention or arrest. But in several cases, consular access was being provided only upon completion of sentence by the convicts. This resulted in delays in the verification of their nationalities and subsequent repatriation.

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