The Supreme Court on Wednesday expressed concern at the May 3 attack on Pakistani prisoner Sanaullah in a Jammu jail and issued notice to the Centre and the State government, asking them to explain why steps were not taken to prevent it. However, Sanaullah could not be repatriated at this stage as he had not completed the life sentence awarded to him, a Bench said, hearing a petition filed by Jammu and Kashmir Panthers Party chief Bhim Singh, seeking repatriation of foreign and Pakistani prisoners, including Sanaullah, and those who have spent more than 15 years in detention in the country.

The Bench wanted details of the action taken against erring jail officials and asked the Central and State governments to ensure that such incidents did not recur. “This is a very serious matter,” observed Justice R.M. Lodha, who sat on the Bench along with Justice Kurian Joseph.

“He is a life convict, and the question of his repatriation does not arise,” Justice Lodha said, referring to the plea for repatriation of Sanaullah, a Sialkot resident, who was arrested in 1999 and was serving a life term after he was convicted under the TADA.

On the plea for remission of the sentence, he said: “Once a decision is taken by the authorities, we may undertake the exercise of judicial review. We are pained and concerned at the attack on Sanaullah. We are more concerned why such incidents are happening in jails. Lives of inmates are put in danger. It is a serious matter and can’t be accepted… It is happening from Jammu to Delhi. It is happening in a jail and it is a serious sign. Why adequate steps were not taken? You should have anticipated that when something had happened in Pakistan [the attack on death-row prisoner Sarabjit Singh, who died subsequently]. We can’t allow the rule of law to be compromised.”

Professor Bhim Singh said in his petition that as per a counter-affidavit filed by the Centre in August last, he had completed the sentence awarded to him by different courts in India in most of the cases, and his repatriation would be in the interests of universal justice and equity. “Sanaullah has completed more than 18 years in jail with a disciplined life. He has been a music band master at home, and also inside the jail. The entire history of the trials would establish that he has completed life imprisonment also.”

He wanted a direction to repatriate forthwith all Pakistani and other foreign prisoners who had completed more than 15 years in detention in Indian jails, and all mentally challenged persons (including five deaf and dumb lodged in the Central Jail, Amritsar) who were not wanted in any case in India and lodged in the different jails in the country.