BY R. K. RADHAKRISHNAN –
Despite the Agreement on Transfer of Sentenced Prisoners between India and Sri Lanka signed in 2010, and efforts by the Indian High Commission in Colombo, the prisoners see no hope of their getting out at an early date. This is because their fate is caught up in procedure in New Delhi.
Most of the formalities here have been completed. But since prisons is a State subject in India, the consent of State governments has to be sought before the convicts can be transferred. This is where red-tape and “government procedural delays” have kicked in.
Governments of Kerala and Tamil Nadu — where all the 34 hail from — are aware of the problem. In fact, the Tamil prisoners had appealed to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. But both governments have not taken any proactive steps.
“Will the MPs meet us?” asked a convicted prisoner over phone from the Welikada prison, where all the 34 have been lodged. “There are 5 MPs from Tamil Nadu. Will they not highlight our problem?” Of the 34 convicts, 27 belong to Tamil Nadu and the remaining to Kerala. Four of them are women.
“We have waited with hope for so long. It has been two years since the agreement was signed. Some of us have been here for over a decade,” another prisoner lamented. “Some of us need help even to move from one place to another. We are tired, and broken.”
The prisoners pointed out that some of their fellow foreign prisoners, notably from Pakistan, could head home soon. In their case, the agreement between the governments came much later, but the process in Pakistan moved much faster. The prisoners are now waiting for Pakistan’s Interior Ministry to work out modalities for transporting them.
But for the Indian prisoners, life alternates between hope and despair. Right now, it looks like they will have to complete their sentences here. Duraimanickam from Tiruchi walked out of Sri Lanka’s high-security Welikada prison a few months ago after completing a 15-year term.
Most of the Indians are in prison for ferrying narcotic drugs. All of them hail from poor families and were lured by the prospect of big money. Sri Lankan laws mandate life in prison for the offence and there is no remission.
All that the convicted prisoners want is to be transferred to prisons in India, where they will serve out the remaining part of their sentences.