The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Union government to deport in two months 16 Pakistani prisoners languishing in jail even after completion of their sentence for offences under the Public Safety Act of Jammu and Kashmir.

A Bench of Justices Markandey Katju and R.M. Lodha rejected the government's argument that they could be released only if an equal number of Indian prisoners in Pakistan were released and sent home.

The Bench gave this direction on a petition filed by Bhim Singh, leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Panthers Party, seeking release of all Pakistanis detained in different jails of Agra, Jodhpur, Naini, Sangrur, Varanasi and Tihar. He submitted that there was no case against them and they had served their prison term.

Those ordered released are: Mohammad Ajmal, Mehrban Sathi, Mohammad Nawaz, Sajad Ali Jat, Shabir Ahmed, Shahzad Gul, Shahid Mehmood, Qudrat Ullah, Mohammad Farooq Raja, Dawood Ahmed Mughal, Faiz Ali, Mohammad Usman Shiksh, Zarar Baloch, Shahid Latief, Suhail Ahmed Kataria and Sher Khan. They had already been provided travel documents by Pakistan.

Justice Katju told Centre's counsel: “This court is the custodian of the civil rights of every person, Indian or foreigner, under Article 21 of the Constitution and no person shall be deprived of his life or liberty without the procedure established by law. This provision in the Indian Constitution cannot be allowed to be diluted.”

He observed: “How can the government keep them in detention in violation of the fundamental rights of a person for years together without resorting to the procedure of law?” The right to life and liberty was not dependent on another country's action, he said.

Centre's stand

In its affidavit, the Centre said 22 prisoners who had completed their sentences and detained in different jails were recommended for deportation by the by Jammu and Kashmir government. It said Pakistan, while clearing the names of 16 persons, had neither sent travelling documents nor cleared the names of five others — Mohd Aslam Mughal alias Zahoor Ahmed, Manzoor Ahmad Sheikh, Liaquat Ali Khan alias Mehboob Ali and Abdul Qadeer Khawaja, but consular access had been provided to them. In respect of one person his nationality could not be verified, the affidavit said.