Jaffar Alam was an inmate at Amritsar Central Jail in Punjab. On June 30, the 55-year-old ‘Pakistani national’ was allegedly attacked by another inmate, also a ‘Pakistani national’, inside the jail and died later. Following Alam’s death, the jail authorities sent a letter to the Pakistan embassy requesting it to take back his body. The authorities, however, are not holding out hope for a response as Alam had already spent 15 years in jail awaiting confirmation of his nationality.

“Earlier too, we have buried the dead bodies of Pakistani nationals whose nationality was not confirmed by their country. They died waiting,” an official at Amritsar Central Jail said.

On Monday, July 1, India had urged Pakistan to expedite the nationality verification process of 75 civilian prisoners and fishermen in India’s custody who are believed to be Pakistani nationals whose repatriation is pending for want of nationality confirmation from the country.

Sources said that the names of Alam and the man accused of attacking him, Shahid Ali, 32, were on this list. With Alam’s death, the number has reduced to 74. Last year, it was 62.

Alam was arrested under The Foreigners Act in 2009 and had already completed his sentence in 2012. Since then, he had been awaiting his release. However, Pakistan had not confirmed his nationality despite repeated communication from the Amritsar jail authorities.

Festive offer

Similarly, the accused Ali had also completed his sentence under The Foreigners Act and was waiting for the Pakistan government to confirm his identity. Now, he will face a fresh case under murder charges.

“These are prisoners who were arrested without any passport after entering India from Pakistan. Such prisoners are often sentenced to one year to two years by the court. They are mostly people who cross the border by mistake. However, they remain in jail until the Pakistan government confirms their identity to take them back. We start communicating with the Pakistan embassy as soon as such prisoners come to us,” an officer at Amritsar jail explained.

Alam and Ali had even provided their addresses to the police while they were arrested. While Alam claimed he was a resident of Musa Colony in New Karachi, Ali said he was from Lahore.

“Most of these prisoners are not of sound mind. Many of them are not wanted by their families. Or their families are too poor to pursue the case with Pakistan authorities to get them back. Also, it depends upon the Pakistan embassy to take back such prisoners after the completion of their sentence. Many such factors delay the process of their release even after the completion of their sentence and they remain stuck here in Amritsar jail,” the officer added.

When the Punjab and Haryana HC intervened

In January this year, during an inspection visit at a Faridkot observation home that houses undertrial and convicted juveniles, Punjab and Haryana High Court judge Justice NS Shekhawat saw that two Pakistani boys who had been acquitted by the Juvenile Justice Board on April 18, 2023, were still there.

The boys were apprehended near the Indo-Pak border in Tarn Taran on September 1, 2022, and had been booked under Section 3 of The Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920, and Section 14 of The Foreigners Act, 1946, for allegedly illegally crossing the international border.

“Chances of mistakenly entering into the territory of India in foggy days can also be not ruled out and it can also be not ruled out that due to non-wiring or gate at the spot, juveniles could not make out the difference of territory of two nations,” the board had observed while acquitting the boys.

Hearing a suo motu plea following the case of the Pakistani boys, Chief Justice GS Sandhawalia and Justice Lapita Banerji had sought a list of Pakistani nationals who have completed their sentences but are still languishing in Punjab jails.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court’s intervention saw the Indian authorities rush to repatriate the boys to Pakistan. After the Pakistani authorities at Attari declined to take custody of the duo citing lack of documents on March 29 and April 19, they were finally sent back on April 27.

Meanwhile, Additional Solicitor General of India Satya Pal Jain informed the Punjab and Haryana High Court that the process of repatriating 30 ‘Pakistani’ civil prisoners, who have already completed their sentence and are currently lodged in the Central Jail, Amritsar, is under active consideration. with the Union Ministry of Home Affairs and the exercise would be undertaken with consultation of all the stakeholders for which some time would be required.

Thousands repatriated from Pakistan too

Under provisions of the 2008 bilateral Agreement on Consular Access, India and Pakistan exchange lists of civilian prisoners and fishermen in each other’s custody twice every year, on January 1 and July 1.

India has shared the names of 366 civilian prisoners and 86 fishermen in its custody who are Pakistani or are believed to be Pakistani. Similarly, Pakistan has shared the names of 43 civilian prisoners and 211 fishermen in its custody, who are Indian or are believed to be Indian. Meanwhile, the Indian government has also asked Pakistan to provide immediate consular access to the 47 civilian prisoners and fishermen in Pakistan’s custody who are believed to be Indian and have not been provided consular access so far.

Among the prisoners are those whose nationality has been confirmed but are in jail as they cannot pay the fine. Lawyer and human rights activist Navjot Kaur Chabba said she has helped such prisoners. “We paid Rs 4 lakh fine for two such Pakistani women whose sentence was over but they did not have the money to pay the fine,” Chabba said.

“It is sad to see that someone died in jail because his nationality was not confirmed. Nobody who has completed his/her sentence should be kept in jail on both sides of the border. Governments on both sides should make efforts for such prisoners,” Chabba added.

As many as 2,639 Indian fishermen and 71 Indian civilian prisoners have been repatriated from Pakistan since 2014. This includes 478 Indian fishermen and 13 Indian civilian prisoners who have been repatriated from Pakistan since 2023 till date.