India seeks consular access to 2 citizens arrested in Pakistan
Reports in the Pakistani media this week said the two Indians – Prashant Vaindam of Hyderabad and Wari Lal of Madhya Pradesh – had been arrested for illegally entering the neighbouring country.Updated: Nov 22, 2019 02:41 IST
New Delhi on Thursday asked Islamabad to grant immediate consular access to two Indian nationals, whose arrest by Pakistani authorities emerged in media reports earlier this week, and to arrange for their speedy repatriation.
Reports in the Pakistani media this week said the two Indians – Prashant Vaindam of Hyderabad and Wari Lal of Madhya Pradesh – had been arrested for illegally entering the neighbouring country. The reports also said they were found wandering in the Cholistan desert near Bahawalpur city in Punjab and that they didn’t possess any official documents.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, however, said the two Indians were believed to have inadvertently crossed the border and entered Pakistan in separate incidents sometime during 2016-17.
When Indian authorities learnt about them mistakenly crossing the border, the matter was officially taken up with the Pakistani side through notes verbale or unsigned diplomatic correspondences. The Indian side had also sought information on both men from the Pakistani authorities, he said.
The case of Wari Lal was taken up with Pakistan in December 2018 and that of Vaindam in May this year but there was no response from Pakistan, he said.
After the announcement of their arrest through media reports, India “approached the government of Pakistan the same day and we requested for immediate consular access”, Kumar said.
“We also asked (Pakistan) to ensure the safety and security of the two individuals and also their early repatriation so that they could be united with their families in India,” he added.
“The sudden announcement of the arrest of these two people through the media is a matter of surprise to us. We hope these two Indian nationals are not used for or become a victim of Pakistani propaganda,” Kumar said.
According to Vaindam’s father M Babu Rao, the software engineer has been missing since April 2017. He was in love with a woman from Madhya Pradesh while they were both working in Bengaluru but became depressed after she moved to Switzerland in 2013, the father said. Wari Lal’s family had officially reported him missing in 2017 and his relatives said he was battling mental problems.
Kumar said there were many other Indians like Vaindam and Wari Lal who “might have crossed over inadvertently into the Pakistani side” and whose return had been sought by India.
“There are five Indians and hundreds of fishermen whose nationality has been verified. In many cases, they have completed their (prison) sentences,” he said, referring to the jail terms given to people who illegally cross the border.
Two Indians were to be repatriated on August 5 – the day New Delhi revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status – and they had even reached the Attari land border crossing but their return “didn’t work out at the last minute”, Kumar said.
In response to a separate question, Kumar said India had been taking up with Pakistan the issue of waiving the $20 service fee charged from pilgrims using the Kartarpur Corridor to visit Durbar Sahib gurdwara.
“Pakistan has not agreed to do away with it so far. We are still requesting the Pakistani side that if they remove it, the restrictions which the pilgrims are facing will be eased,” he said.
Kumar said the number of pilgrims using the corridor has increased in the past few days, especially on weekends, and facilitation procedures can be changed only with the formal consent of both countries and not through a tweet or a statement. These procedures are part of a bilateral agreement which was finalised after discussions by both sides.
A regular review of procedures is made on the Indian side by an empowered committee chaired by the home secretary. The external affairs ministry has taken several steps for better services for passports, which are needed to access the corridor.
“There are now three passport offices, five Passport Seva Kendras and six Post Office Passport Seva Kendras in Punjab. Besides, new POPSKs are being opened, including at Dera Baba Nanak. Six passport camps have been organised in Punjab,” he said.