The Supreme Court Tuesday expressed its anguish at mentally challenged and deaf-mute foreign nationals, mostly Pakistanis, continuing to languish in Indian jails long after completing their sentences, and asked why the issue could “not be taken up at the highest level”.
An apex court bench of Justice R.M. Lodha and Justice H.L. Gokhale said that “such cases pain us” and wanted to know “what is the hitch, problem and impediment” in the cases of the 16 people continuing to languish in jail.
Observing that the cases of these people should be given top priority, Justice Lodha asked: “How many years will they continue to live like this? Problem is why they have not been sent back to their homes so far.”
“The worst part is that they have served out their sentences. They are not set free because their identities are not established,” the court observed.
As the court made the comment, Additional Solicitor General Malhotra responded by asking “where to leave them”.
As Malhotra sought more time to deal with the situation, the court asked how the situation would change after six months or one year or “would it continue to be the same”.
The issue of 16 foreign nationals believed to Pakistani citizens, 14 of them mentally challenged and two deaf-mute, still in jail despite completing their sentences, had come up before the court.
Pointing to the meeting between Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday, Justice Lodha asked: “Why can’t the problem of these prisoners be taken up at the highest level?”
“These are deaf and dumb people. They have no names. It is terribly inhuman. They are here for past ten years,” Prof. Bhim Singh of the Jammu and Kashmir Panthers Party said, pointing out that even the additional affidavit filed by the home ministry records them as “goonga” or dumb.
Malhotra sought more time so that he could sit with the petitioner, senior counsel Bhim Singh, to know his suggestions on what best could be done for the repatriation of these Pakistani prisoners.
As Bhim Singh said that during the last few meetings that he had with Malhotra he got to drink good coffee but nothing substantial emerged from it, Justice Lodha observed, “good brew does not help in decision making process.”
Bhim Singh said that he had met the Pakistani High Commissioner in this regard and had discussed the issue.
It was suggested that one way of establishing the identities of the prisoners would be to publish their photographs in Pakistani newspapers. As the court saw practical difficulties in the government doing it, Bhim Singh said “at least we can provide their photographs to the Pakistani High Commission which then would follow it up by putting advertisements in newspapers”.
He said that photographs had to be made available by the government. “The officials of the Pakistan High Commission cannot be expected to go to jails to click them.”
The Panthers Party leader told the court that most of the prisoners are shepherds and get caught after they inadvertently cross the border between India and Pakistan while herding their animals. He said that in most of the cases their families do not know where they have gone or they are not inclined to have them back.
The court adjourned the hearing till May 2.