It is over a year since both sides signed an agreement to transfer convicted inmates

More than a year after India and the Maldives signed an agreement on transfer of convicted prisoners, as many as 14 Indian inmates in the archipelago are losing hope of being transferred to prisons in their country.

“We have no problems. From our side, there is no delay. We welcome India taking back sentenced prisoners,” a Maldivian official told The Hindu last week, when asked about the delay in paperwork.

Just as in the case of 33 Indian prisoners in Sri Lanka, the Indians in Maldives prisons are also at the receiving end of Indian bureaucracy. But unlike in the case of Indian prisoners in Sri Lanka, most of the 14 prisoners in the Maldives are ill and have almost no access to treatment. Access to treatment for most islanders in the Maldives consumes time, energy and money. Vacancies for specialist-doctors exist even in the country’s main hospital, the Indian-built Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital, Male.

“I do not know what my disease is,” said a woman prisoner who has been jailed in the Central North province of Maafushi, in Kaafu Atoll. “After I have been brought to Maafushi, I have never met a doctor. Every month, they take me to Male and bring me back. Soon after that they take a signature of mine in a paper with something written in Dhivehi [the official language of the Maldives],” said the woman, in a letter to the Indian High Commissioner in the Maldives.

According to the prisoner, Lattha Kumari, she was arrested by the customs in September 21, 2011 at Male airport. Raising the hopes of Indian prisoners in the Maldives, in November 2011, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the then Maldivian President, Mohamed Nasheed, signed an agreement on transfer of sentenced prisoners, subject to certain conditions.

Indian High Commission officials appear to have told Lattha that she would be transferred to India by the end of 2012. But when this turned out to be a mirage, Lattha, a resident of Neyyattinkara near Thiruvananthapuram, again wrote to the Indian High Commissioner in Male. “I was told that I would be transferred to India by December this year,” she wrote to the Indian High Commissioner, Dyaneshwar Mulay, in Malayalam, the only language she knew. “It is already 27th today and there is no progress,” she said in the letter, written on November 27 and posted two days later from her prison.

Several letters sent

“She writes to Indian High Commission regularly,” an Indian official said. “In fact, many of them do,” he added. The Hindu has a copy of the letter, written neatly and legibly in very small letters on an A-4 size paper. “I had bought the paper [to write] sometime back. But since I could not afford a pen, I was unable to write for sometime,” she wrote. The letter bares the pathetic living conditions in the jail, and the general unhygienic conditions that prisoners live under.

“I am unable to sleep or do anything else because of my pain. At least can you ask them [prison authorities] to give me medicines,” she requested in the letter.

Apparently, the delay is on the Indian side, insisting on certain procedures being followed. The Maldives has to ratify certain provisions of the legal framework drawn up, and only after this process is completed, will the Ministry of External Affairs begin the next long-winding process — of verifying the antecedents of the prisoners, getting the Union Home Ministry involved and taking consent from State governments to transfer prisoners.

Inmates in Lanka

In the case of Indian prisoners in Sri Lanka, the two governments signed an agreement on transfer of sentenced prisoners in mid-2010. Almost two-and-a-half years later, the transfer is still stuck up in procedures in India.