The apex Court, on Tuesday reportedly shunned the UPA Government for the manner in which they dealt with the issue of 54 Indian Prisoners of War (PoWs), languishing in Pakistani jails for nearly three decades.
The Court was hearing petitioner filed by the parents of some of these PoW. The Bench headed by Chief Justice R.M. Lodha, said the court would like to get an update on a list submitted by the External Affairs Ministry in 1985, which said 54 Indian defence personnel were being held as prisoners in neighboring Pakistan.
The Court questioned the UPA Government over its hesitation to approach the International Court of Justice (ICJ), on the grounds that the “enemy country” would object to it.
Justice Kurien Joseph hence, urged the NDA Government to adopt a fresh stand on the issue and said, “Take up the issue with Pakistan. If they do not agree on the idea of approaching the ICJ, you may approach the ICJ yourself and let us see what stand Pakistan takes.” The Court added, “Don’t be pessimistic, be optimistic. These are basic human problems. All the options, meritorious or otherwise, must be explored in a matter like this which is so serious and sensitive. There should not be any negative approach.”
The Centre was asked to file an affidavit in six weeks detailing the steps taken to secure the release of the PoWs from Pakistan. The affidavit demanded from the Ministry of External Affairs should indicate the current status of the list prepared by government first in 1985 admitting that 54 Indian defence personnel were held as POWs in Pakistan during the 1971 war. It added that in the fresh affidavit, the Centre will also inform about the development since 2010 as there was no material on record to suggest steps taken since then.
Not only will the families of these PoWs heave a sigh of relief, but also the Kargil war hero Capt. Saurabh Kalia, whose kin sought a probe into his death.
When Radhakrishnan argued that “rows between India and Pakistan can only be governed by the Simla pact under which all issues are to be settled bilaterally and no party can approach the ICJ unilaterally”, the court shot back: “Is Simla Agreement amenable to jurisdiction of this court? In this matter, government has to take the initiative as many things are beyond us though we are concerned.”
“If Pakistan can file a petition over destruction of its aircraft, what can be your hitch to at least go there with this cause? Life of a nation is also like a roller coaster ride. That was then. There is a new regime now. There may be a new way of looking at things,” it added. It was referring to the case of Pakistan raising in ICJ, the issue of downing of its aircraft in 1999 by Indian forces despite New Delhi's objection which was upheld by the international tribunal.
On the issue of POWs, the apex court in 2012 had stayed a Gujarat High Court order directing the Union government to move the ICJ on Pakistan illegally detaining 54 Indian Army men in breach of an agreement between the two countries after the 1971 war to exchange all prisoners of war