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Red tape delays transfer of Indian prisoners in Colombo

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For ferrying narcotic drugs, Sri Lankan laws mandate life in prison with no scope for remission

The wait for 40 Indian prisoners in a Colombo jail continues, even as some fellow foreigners in prison, notably from Pakistan, could head home in the next few weeks.

The fate of the Indian prisoners is caught up in procedure in New Delhi, whereas the case of the 20 Pakistani prisoners is being processed by its Interior Ministry in Islamabad.

“Pakistan is trying to work out modalities for the transport of the prisoners. Once this is done, the Interior Ministry will communicate to the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry through appropriate channels,” said one source privy to the developments.

But for the Indian prisoners, the only way to freedom anytime soon is after completing their sentences. Like in the case of Duraimanickam, from Tiruchi, who walked out of Sri Lanka's high-security Welikada prison recently, after spending 15 years.

But the cases of 40 others, their emotions swinging between hope and anxiety, are different. Like many of their Pakistani counterparts, most of them are in prison for ferrying narcotic drugs. And, for such an offence, Sri Lankan laws mandate life in prison with no scope for remission. “All we want is to be transferred to prisons in India, where we will serve out the remaining part of our sentences,” one prisoner told The Hindu.

Legal framework

There is a legal framework too, for this: the Agreement on Transfer of Sentenced Prisoners. This was signed between the Indian and Sri Lankan governments in 2010. Ever since, the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka has been working on prisoner swap on a priority basis. Most of the convicted Indians who qualify are in prison for trying to smuggle in banned narcotic substances. Most hail from poor families, and, lured by the windfall, ended up in prison.

The transfer is still some distance from reality. The High Commission here had taken the consent of all convicted prisoners, subjected them to a medical examination, and had also been in touch with its Sri Lankan counterparts to complete the process here. Now, the details of most prisoners are in New Delhi. But further progress has been hampered since the External Affairs Ministry had forwarded the file to the Home Ministry. From here, the Home Ministry will have to interact with the State governments willing to take the prisoners – all prisons are manned by State governments.

Having realised this, last year convicted Indian Tamil prisoners had also appealed to Chief Minister Jayalalithaa to secure their release. Among the convicted are 27 Indian Tamils and five Malayalees. “We hope that both Kerala and Tamil Nadu governments help us,” the prisoner said.

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Printable version | Dec 11, 2019 4:58:49 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/red-tape-delays-transfer-of-indian-prisoners-in-colombo/article2985573.ece

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