India on Tuesday called on China to expedite the judicial process for the 21 Indian traders who have been detained in the southern port city of Shenzhen on diamond smuggling charges for more than 10 months, without being formally charged for their crimes.

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said she raised the case during talks with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun on Tuesday.

“We should find a way now to have these people released,” Ms. Rao said. “[Whether] they have to pay whatever fines, we should sort out [the issue]. The health of some of [the traders] is not so good.”

The traders were arrested in a raid by customs authorities in Shenzhen on January 8. They have since been held in a detention centre. Authorities have said they are still gathering evidence before a trial begins.

The families of those detained have criticised the long drawn-out judicial process, during which they have received little information from the Chinese authorities "We have still been given no information on what the charges are and why they are being held,” the wife of one of those detained told The Hindu on Wednesday.

The families of the traders, most of whom are from Gujarat and Mumbai, were allowed to visit the centre in October, only the third visit arranged since their detention.

The wife of one of the traders, who requested anonymity fearful of jeopardising the case, said the families have been told the judicial process could continue until at next February.

Prosecutors had sought a second extended deadline from local authorities to gather evidence, which expires on November 20. “We were told that under Chinese laws, a third extension is also possible,” the family member said. “This could go on until February, and we are still without information.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has released little information on the case so far, unusually for a case involving foreigners.

Ms. Rao said the two countries would explore a transfer of sentenced person’s agreement to handle such cases in the future. This would be discussed in the lead up to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to India in mid-December.

“We don’t have a transfer of sentenced person’s agreement,” Ms. Rao said. “If and when we have it, it will help in such cases.”

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