NEW DELHI: In an annual ritual, India and Pakistan on Tuesday exchanged a list of prisoners held in each other’s jails as well as a list of nuclear Installations and facilities in their respective countries.
Under the Consular Access Agreement signed in May 2008 by the two nations, they are required to exchange these lists twice a year, January 1 and July 1, respectively. Similarly, the Agreement on Prohibition of Attacks against Nuclear Installations and Facilities signed on 31st December 1988 contains the provision that both countries inform each other of their nuclear installations and facilities on January 1 every year.
In Tuesday’s exchange, while India handed over a list of 249 Pakistani civilian prisoners and 98 fishermen in India’s custody to Pakistan, Pakistan shared a list of 54 Indian civilian prisoners and 483 fishermen in its custody.
The inverse ratio of fishermen to civilians is due to the fact that many Indian fishing boats still lack proper GPS facilities and stray into Pakistani waters where the fishing is said to be better, while Pakistani boats are deterred by the strong Indian coast guard presence in Indian waters. As for the large number of Pakistani civilians who ‘stray’ into Indian territory, they are mostly innocent people who stray across the border without realising it, or want to come to India in search of better economic opportunities, or are spies, explained an official.
While the lists broadly divided the jailed people as fishermen and civilians, their names and details were not released in the public domain until 2014, when Ravi Nitesh, founder of Aaghaz-e-Dosti, an NGO, filed a request under the Right to Information Act, and received the detailed list, which includes the name, parentage, jail name, FIR details, date of sentencing, date of sentence completion, date of consular access
and nationality, which he regularly uploaded on his site since then. This helps NGOs in both nations help pursue the cases.
However, since last year, the list has gone back to bare basics, and the RTIs have been rejected on the grounds that this was the only data available. This means that many people on both sides who have served their sentences continue to languish in jail because of lack of information.
‘Instead of me having to request for the details, the government should make all this information public while releasing the list,” Nitesh told this newspaper. “Then there’s an Indo-Pak judicial committee which has not met since 2013, and needs to be revived.” He also argued that fishermen should be freed along
with boats at sea, and not sent across the Wagah land border.
Lists of prisoners and nuclear facilities are shared by the two countries every year as part of two agreements. They however, do not make information on prisoners available to the public