New Delhi, Oct 16: Liberty is the most precious of all constitutional rights, the Supreme Court Tuesday said, underlining its concern for safeguarding this right of every human being, including prisoners from other countries.
“To us liberty is very very important. It is the most precious right that the constitution has given us. We are concerned about every human being,” said the apex court bench of Justice R.M. Lodha and Justice Anil R. Dave.
Admonishing the central government for the way it was dealing with prisoners from other countries who have already completed their prison terms or were under trial, Justice Lodha said: “You can’t throw Article 21 to winds and say what we can do.”
The observation came during the hearing on a petition by Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party chief Bhim Singh.
He had sought the release and deportation of foreign prisoners, particularly from Pakistan, who had served their sentences and were no longer required by the law in India.
The court expressed its anguish when Bhim Singh told the court that a prisoner Abdul Sharif was still under detention for the last 15 years even after completing his sentence July 17, 1997.
Earlier Sharif was assumed to be a Pakistani national but later the Pakistan High Commission told the Indian government that he was an Iranian national.
“It is only after apex court’s intervention that things are moving. If we close the case then these prisoners would be languishing in the jails,” Justice Lodha said as Additional Solicitor General P.P. Malhotra told the court that “things were moving”.
“We are not interested in holding then (foreign prisoners) even for a day. Why should we spend our money on them?” Malhotra said.
If the Iranian embassy has not responded then put him in detention, the court said. “Can this court say keep him in continued prison. How can constitutional principles permit him to be in jail?”
As Malhotra contended that “this man can’t be allowed to intermingle with common people”, Justice Lodha retorted back “Can he be allowed to intermingle with hardened criminals”.
Malhotra said that Sharif was not in jail as he has been shifted to a barrack designated as detention centre within the Amritsar Jail complex.
The government gave the court a list of 29 prisoners out of which the nationality of the four had been confirmed by the Pakistani High Commission and they had been deported.
The court was told that in the case of the remaining 25 prison inmates the nationality was not clear.
The court said that the government could not have done much as the foreign diplomatic missions were not co-operating in confirming the nationality of the prisoners who had completed their prison terms.
The court dropped the contempt proceedings against a Jammu and Kashmir home department official after she tendered apology for filing an affidavit having a factual error.
Meanwhile the apex court bench of Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi directed the listing of the case of four Pakistani prisoners of war who were captured in the 1965 war in the Poonch sector in Jammu and Kashmir before the bench of Justice Lodha and Justice Dave.
The court would next hear the case Nov 29.