The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Centre to inform it about the current status of 54 Indians Prisoners of War (PoW), languishing in Pakistan jails since 1971, and took strong note of submission that though Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has provided the information, the Defence Ministry is yet to do the same.
“The Union of India is a sum total of all the ministries. This is your inter-ministerial problem. You cannot take a stand that your one department is not doing the needful,” a bench headed by Justice T.S. Thakur said.
The bench granted three weeks more time to the Centre for filing the present status of 54 PoWs who are in Pakistan jails for last 43 years.
It also sought to know whether post-retirement benefits have been given to the next kith and kin of these PoWs and how many of them are yet to be paid.
The apex court has been dealing with three petitions raising the issue of PoWs, brutality meted out to Saurav Kalia during Kargil War and beheading and mutilation of bodies of two Indian soldiers in 2013 by Pakistani Army, for direction to the union government to move the International Court of Justice.
Dealing with the case of Capt. Saurav Kalia, the bench on Tuesday said that these are complex matters where the issues like the scope of judicial review has to be dealt with also.
“These are complex issues. If Government of India declares the war, you cannot seek a stay on the decision or you cannot seek an order from the court that a war be declared,” it said when the counsel, appearing for N.K. Kalia, father of deceased Capt. Kalia, submitted the Centre be asked to refer it to the International Court Of Justice as the terms of the Geneva Convention had been breached by Pakistan.
Dealing with the plea relating to 1971 PoWs, the bench, also comprising justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and R. Banumathi, expressed displeasure over the delay by the Centre in filing the response and said “almost two months have passed, you have not done anything concrete”.
Earlier, the court had asked the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to file a fresh affidavit indicating the current status of the list prepared by government in 1985 admitting that 54 Indian defence personnel were held as PoWs in Pakistan during the 1971 war.
Earlier, the court had said “29 years is a long time” since the list of 54 PoWs was prepared and it has to be determined what their status is, as some of them may not be alive.
It had asked the Centre to inform about the steps taken by it since February 17, 2010 as there is no other material after that to indicate the steps taken on the matter.
It had also taken note of the submission that Pakistan has been claiming that there was not a single Indian POW in its jails.
The apex court had noted the Centre’s stand that it was not a matter to be referred to the International Court of Justice.
The court had also referred to the case of Pakistan raising in the ICJ the issue of downing of its aircraft in 1999 by Indian forces despite New Delhi’s objection which was upheld by the international tribunal.
The focus of hearing was on the issue of PoWs and government said it cannot refer these cases to the International Court of Justice as India is governed by a bilateral agreement with Pakistan based on the 1972 Shimla agreement.
On the issue of PoWs, the apex court had in 2012 stayed a Gujarat High Court order directing the union government to move the ICJ on Pakistan illegally detaining 54 Indian Army men in breach of an agreement between the two countries after the 1971 war to exchange all prisoners of war.