September,1,2015: Supreme Court was apprised by Centre that efforts to gather information from the Pakistan government about prisoners of war (POW) from 1965 and 1971 drew a blank with the neighbouring country refusing to accept even their existence.
“What is your understanding? Are they dead or alive?” Justice T.S. Thakur asked Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar, who represented the Ministry of Defence.
“We have tried everything, but nothing worked out with them (Pakistan). They are not even willing to accept that there are Indian POWs in their jails,” Mr. Kumar submitted.
There are 54 personnel from various forces, including the Army, Air Force, Navy and the Border Security Force, believed to be held captives in Pakistan's jails.
Mr. Kumar read out in court a few excerpts from the book 'Bhutto – Trial and Execution' by senior BBC reporter Victoria Schofield in which former Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto recounts his experience of hearing “horrific shrieks and screams in the dead of the night” from Indian Prisoners of War of 1965 and 1971 kept in a cell next to his in Kot Lakhpat prison.
Justice Thakur asked during the hearing why the Indian Government did not approach the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for getting information about the prisoners from Pakistan.
“What is the problem? If a dispute over the waters in rivers Jhelum and Chenab can be moved, why cannot you move the ICJ on this?” Justice Thakur asked.
To this, Mr. Kumar said that India faced reservations as a Commonwealth nation under the ICJ's jurisdictional laws in moving against Pakistan in matters concerning hostilities and armed conflicts.
In September 2014, reacting to arguments by the Centre that “rows between India and Pakistan can only be governed by the Shimla pact under which all issues are to be settled bilaterally and no party can approach the ICJ unilaterally”, the court had responded that then the government should then take the initiative.
“Why don’t you give it a try? Why do you foresee Pakistan will not concede to the demand? Life is a roller-coaster,” the court had then asked.
In May, the Supreme Court had slapped a Rs. 20,000 fine on the Centre over its perceived failure to file details about 54 defence personnel languishing in Pakistani jails.
The court was hearing a batch of petitions including the one filed by N.K. Kalia, the father of Kargil martyr Captain Saurabh Kalia, who was reportedly subjected to brutal torture in captivity by the Pakistan Army in 1999.
Further to a question whether the government has complied with the directions issued by the Gujarat High Court in relation to release of retrial benefits in favour of the next of kin of soldiers who were said to be languishing in Pakistani jails, Mr. Kumar said this is already being done and their salaries of the POWs had been paid till their retirement.
“So do you presume that they (POWs) may be dead?” Justice Thakur asked. The court will continue to hear the matter on September 8.