The Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka has taken up the issue of prisoner-swap with Sri Lanka on a priority basis and was working out the details of the transfer of prisoners.

It was because of the interest of both India and Sri Lanka that an agreement on the transfer of prisoners could be signed last year. “Now we have the legal frame-work. We have been working on the remaining of the details ever since,” an official said, and added that the whole process was quite complex.

Not all Indian prisoners in Sri Lankan jails qualify. “Only those who have been convicted can be transferred to Indian jails. Also, coordination of multiple agencies was required and all this takes some time,” the official explained.

There are more than 40 Indians in Sri Lankan jails. Almost all of them have been sent to prison for trying to smuggle in banned narcotic substances. Almost all of those in prison are poor and share strikingly similar stories of being lured into being “carriers” and ending up in prison. In Sri Lanka, a life term is what it means – the convict has to spend the rest of his or her life in prison. Like most countries in the region fighting the arrival of drugs onto its shores, Sri Lanka has put in place stringent laws to deal with the menace. No remission of sentence is possible for a drug carrier in Sri Lanka.

India, Sri Lanka keen

Ever since the legal frame work was in place, the Indian High Commission has been working on the remaining aspects to have prisoners readied for sending back to Indian jails. The progress achieved so far in setting up the legal framework – seen in the backdrop of almost no movement in the past few decades – was clearly an indication that both governments were keen on handing over prisoners belonging to the other country.

The High Commission has already taken the consent of the prisoners, has been handling the paper work, and cross verifying the antecedents of the prisoners. All convicted Indian prisoners are willing to be transferred. A medical test too was administered. Since multiple level checks and approvals were required at each stage, an official of the High Commission has been following progress with the different departments.

The next part of the process of approval is tougher and even tricky. The High Commission through the relevant departments has to interact with jails in States willing to take these prisoners. Since Law and Order is a State subject, the consent of individual States have to be taken ahead of the transfer.