Expressing serious concern over the plight of 21 Pakistanis languishing in detention centres even after the completion of their sentence, the Supreme Court on Tuesday said this issue should be given top priority.
In an apparent reference to Sunday's meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari here, a Bench observed that this issue should have been sorted out between the two Heads of State.
The Bench of Justices R.M. Lodha and H.L. Gokhale was hearing a petition filed by Prof. Bhim Singh seeking a direction to the Centre to release Pakistani prisoners after the completion of their sentence. Apart from the 21 prisoners, there are 23 languishing in various jails.
“Such detention pains us,” Justice Lodha told Additional Solicitor-General P.P. Malhotra, referring to mentally unstable and deaf and dumb prisoners. “Topmost priority has to be given to these cases and issue should have been sorted out between the two Heads of State. Sixteen mentally unstable prisoners are there. For how many years can they be in jail? The problem is they are not being sent back to Pakistan even after completion of their sentence. They are mentally unsound and deaf and dumb. They have been kept in jail because of some problem, but that cannot be an indefinite exercise.”
Mr. Malhotra said the matter was being taken up with the Pakistan High Commissioner. The Centre's affidavit, giving details of various prisoners, said these 21, sixteen of them mentally unsound, were in Punjab and the State government was treating them.
When Mr. Bhim Singh suggested that the Pakistan government publish photographs of the prisoners in Pakistan newspapers, Justice Lodha said: “We can't compel the Pakistan High Commission. India can only suggest. But the lead has to be taken by the Pakistan High Commission as deportation can't be done without identification. These are deaf and dumb people. They have no names. It is terribly inhuman. They are here for the past 10 years.”
The judge said: “There is no doubt that the best of facilities are being provided to such prisoners in detention centres but the problem is they are not being repatriated. What is the impediment?”
When Mr. Malhotra said that these prisoners could not be sent back without their identification being proved, Justice Lodha said: “How will you do that even after six months or one year? The problem will continue. You must tell us what should be done.”
The Bench asked the ASG to discuss the issue with Mr. Bhim Singh and with the government, and inform the court on May 2.