The Supreme Court has asked the Centre to release 61 Pakistani prisoners, languishing in Indian jails even after completion of their jail term, after their identity was established and their travel documents were accepted.

A Bench of Justices Aftab Alam and R.M. Lodha passed the order while issuing notice to the Centre on petitions filed by Jatin Desai, who brought to the court's notice that 877 Pakistanis, most of whom had crossed the border, had been languishing in prisons in India for a number of years. Senior counsel Colin Gonzalves said that of the 877, the identities of 61 persons had been established and they were awaiting consular access before they could be repatriated.

Solicitor-General Gopal Subramaniam wanted four weeks' time to file a comprehensive report after verifying the petitioners' information.

The Bench, in a brief order, said the identities of the 61 prisoners should be verified forthwith and they should be released if their status was confirmed without waiting for a formal court order.

The Solicitor-General agreed that the government would pass appropriate orders once the identities were established and travel documents accepted.

Earlier, Justice Alam told him: “We deeply appreciate your efforts in this matter. But we expect a little more sense of urgency. While the track record of our country in protection of human rights is far better than some other countries, still we feel there is a lack of urgency demanded under Article 21.”

Justice Alam also favoured the Centre putting in place a proper mechanism to deal with such cases. For, the court was repeatedly coming across such cases.

Justice Lodha observed: “We are really shocked that it takes years for the release and deportation of such prisoners languishing in Indian jails. We have not reached a stage where deportation takes place satisfactorily and we can't overlook this fact. This is a very serious situation.”

Earlier — on the petition filed by Bhim Singh in 2005 in which he wanted 64 foreigners released — the Solicitor-General said 63 of these prisoners had been freed. Efforts were on to release the other, an Afghan, also.

At this juncture, Mr. Gonzalves said 877 Pakistani prisoners had been languishing in jails, and most of them had completed their sentence. While the identities of 61 persons could be established, confirmation of the nationality status of the others was awaited.

‘Put in place a proper mechanism to deal with such cases'