In a significant judgment, the Supreme Court Tuesday directed the government to deport within a month 54 Pakistani nationals who are languishing in Indian jails for many years despite completing their sentences.
The apex court bench of Justice R.M. Lodha and Justice H.L. Gokhale said: “Procedure can’t be allowed to overweigh the law and liberty” of a person.
The court said: “Show us which is this procedure that permits a foreign national to remain in jail for years after he has completed his sentence.”
We direct that the foreign nationals who have served out the sentence and whose national status has been established and are otherwise not required for any other offences in the country must be deported as early as possible but in no case later than one month from today, the court said.
The court said its order held good for five similarly placed prisoners belonging to Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Iran.
The judges said that he “union home ministry shall also request the Pakistan High Commission for the completion of the process of verification of the national status of the prisoners mentioned in a list of 365 such prisoners provided to court by it Nov 28, 2011.
The court wondered why the bureaucrats didnt do what they were supposed to do without the intervention of the court, the judges said.
Justice Lodha said: “We should honour the UN charter on human rights and the commitment we gave to uphold liberty under Article 21 of the constitution.”
The court said this during the hearing on a petition by the Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party chief Bhim Singh seeking the release of Pakistani prisoners who have served their jail terms.
We are more concerned about the rule of law in our country. We want to know why all these persons who have completed their sentences have not be repatriated,” the court said.
Directing the government to file a compliance report on its order to release the prisoners, Justice Lodha said: Bureaucratic bottlenecks have got to be removed. Bureaucratic bottlenecks cannot be allowed to come in the way of justice and liberty of a person who has undergone a jail term.
We are concerned and pained by the way things were happening, the judges said.
Describing the entire situation as a very sorry state of affairs, Justice Gokhale observed that all things are being done in breach of protocol and guidelines” on the repatriation of foreign nationals on the completion of their sentences.
Saying that a bureaucrat could not be allowed to sit on a file, Justice Gokhale said: If we dont take it up, you dont move there. You dont permit things to move without courts intervention. The whole process should be completed at your end without the courts intervention. That should be the approach.
The court said that the officials of the home ministry and the external affairs ministry should work together.
Additional solicitor General Vivek Tankha tried to explain the policy and procedures involved in the repatriation of foreign nationals but Justice Lodha said: You are trying to justify the continued detention for years after they have undergone sentence by relying on procedures.
The court described as shocking when it noted that an accused Zafar Alam, put under preventive detention and who could have been released on personal bond with or without surety, was shown in the list of arrested people.