SC seeks Centre’s response to trace Army captain in Pakistani jail since 1997
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) asked the petitioner's lawyer to compile a list of similarly placed officers of the Indian armed forces still languishing in Pakistani jails.
The Supreme Court has asked the Centre to inform it within four weeks about the whereabouts of an army officer who went missing 2 years ago and is believed to be in a Pakistani jail.
The top court’s direction on Friday came on a petition by an 84-year-old woman whose son went missing during a patrol at Indo-Pakistan border near Rann of Kutch in 1997.
Not limiting it just to the officer in question, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) asked the lawyer appearing for the woman to compile a list of similarly placed officers of the Indian armed forces still languishing in Pakistani jails. The court is expected to hear the matter next on April 23.
The petitioner, Kamla Bhattacharjee informed the Court that during the past 23 years neither has she been able to communicate with her son nor has she received any specific information about her son’s location. The petition states that her son, Captain Sanjit Bhattacharjee was part of a platoon patrolling along the Indo-Pak border in the Rann of Kutch, Gujarat. On April 19, 1997 Captain Sanjit along with Lance Naik Ram Bahadur Thapa went missing while 15 others belonging to the platoon returned to their camp. The captain’s family was informed the same day he went missing.
Four days later, the Army informed the family that the captain had been apprehended by Pakistani authorities and remained untraceable. The same year the Army came across a radio intercept confirming that captain Bhattacharjee was captured by Pakistan Rangers and subsequently handed over to the Pakistan Army. In 2004, the Army issued a letter informing that the missing officer was presumed to be dead. Yet in 2010, Army prepared a list of 54 missing prisoners of war in which captain Bhattacharjee’s name was included.
Representing the mother of the petitioner, advocate Saurabh Mishra informed the court that all that the petition seeks to achieve is a direction to the Centre to take necessary action for the search and release of captain Sanjit Bhattacharjee languishing in Pakistan jail without any criminal case lodged against him.
“The Petitioner’s son has been deprived of his fundamental right under Article 21 i.e. right to protection of life and personal liberty, which has been described as the heart of fundamental rights,” the petition stated
The bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde while issuing notice apprised the petitioner’s lawyer to research on similarly placed Indian prisoners of war in Pakistan jails. “We are told there are more persons who are similarly situated. I was consulted in a similar case that came up from Nagpur. I believe they are still not free,” said CJI Bobde. The bench, also comprising Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian sought responses from the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of External Affairs.
In 2019, the Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan told the Parliament that 83 Indian prisoners of war are languishing in Pakistan jails. Even the Government and Army have claimed helplessness as Pakistan denies the presence of Indian POWs.