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Finger at grey areas, lack of homework

New Delhi, May 2: Sarabjit Singh’s death has exposed grey areas in responsibility that today allowed buck-passing among officials in Indian ministries.

Sarabjit’s threat perception had increased after the hangings of Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru but sources said India did not write to Pakistan to shift him to a safer prison.

“We would not write about it since it has political implications. You can ask the foreign secretary or the PMO,” a source in the ministry of overseas Indian affairs said.

Home ministry sources said it’s the overseas Indian affairs and foreign ministries that collate data on Indian citizens abroad, including those in Pakistani jails. Asked whether these ministries weren’t concerned with the welfare only of overseas Indians and NRIs, the sources conceded it’s a “grey area”.

However, it’s the home ministry that signs treaties on prisoner transfer.

Ved Bhasin, journalist and member of the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy, said New Delhi had a cavalier attitude on such matters. “They have been taking these cases very lightly and not applying their mind,” Bhasin said.

Some sources suggested that Indian monitors for prisoners in Pakistan needed better homework.

India and Pakistan have a four-member judicial committee on prisoners each that periodically visits jails in the other country. The Indian committee visited jails in Karachi, Rawalpindi and Lahore on April 18-23, 2011, while the Pakistani team visited prisons in Delhi, Jaipur and Amritsar on January 23-27 last year.

The Pakistanis left Indian officials impressed. The committee members were well informed not only on the nuances of Indian penal laws and judicial procedures but also on the details of individual cases.

“They asked us in Jaipur why a certain prisoner had not been produced in court within the timetable mandated by the CrPC,” a government official said. “Our team should have had a back-up legal team to look into every case in Pakistan.”

One theory mooted was that the Pakistanis may have got better access to their prisoners in India than vice versa.

Islamabad and Pakistani civil society groups succeeded in their campaign in April last year when the Supreme Court granted conditional bail to Dr Khalil Chisti, an octogenarian Pakistani serving time for murder in India, allowing him to return to Pakistan.

Retired judges A.S. Gill and M.A. Khan visited Sarabjit at Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital on Tuesday but many deemed it too little too late.