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HC orders arrangement for ‘speediest communication’ based on amicus curiae report stating that 75% of them struggle to gain access to their embassy

For many foreign national prisoners (FNP) lodged in jails across India, a common grievance is that many a time their consulate officer don’t come and they have no one to connect them with their family back home.

This state of affair is set to change with the Delhi High Court last month ordering the Ministry of External Affairs and authorities of the Central government to have “speediest communication with the embassy of the respective countries of the foreign inmates who are in jail”.

The High Court gave the order based on a report by advocate Ajay Verma who was appointed to assist the court as an amicus curiae in a public interest litigation initiated last year after receiving a letter from the foreign women inmates narrating their plight.

Mr. Verma, who visited all the jails in the Capital and interacted with all the foreign national inmates, found that 75% of them face struggle in accessing their embassy or consulate concerned after their arrest. As per his report, there were 378 foreign prisoners, including a few convicts,lodged in Delhi prisons. Out of them about 54 were female prisoners.

Who are FNPs?

FNPs refer to prisoners who do not carry the passport of the country in which they are imprisoned. They are entitled to the basic minimum guarantees as enshrined and carefully set out in the Constitution of India.

As per Prison Statistics of India 2015, there are 6,185 FNPs in India. There are no official data for more recent years.

However, earlier this year, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) published a report titled ‘Strangers to Justice’, in which they tallied the number of FNPs across 22 States and 4 Union Territories to 3,908 based on RTI responses.

Mr. Verma said FNPs by virtue of their peculiar status are to be treated with care and caution to avoid any possible discrimination that they may be subjected to during their time in prison.

The report said most foreign nationals who have been apprehended or detained in Delhi, whether upon having committed an offence or for any other just reason, have often and continue to find themselves at the receiving end of the criminal justice system. They often face a range of difficulties due to differences in language, culture, customs, religion or because of lack of family ties locally and contact with the outside world, it added.

Feel discriminated

Mr. Verma, in his report, stated that 90% of the foreign prisoners who he interacted with conveyed that they faced difficulty in securing bail merely because of their special status or due to “ever-inherent specific concern” that they may be difficult to locate if they jump bail.

The report also mentioned that 40%-50% of the FNP population in jails alleged that Indian prisoners are able to secure bail more easily even if they have committed the same offence.

Mr. Verma said that our legal system does not create distinction between Indian nationals and foreign nationals, especially when it comes to grant of bail. He urged the High Court to frame guidelines to guide the trial courts on this issue. He also requested that in case FNPs are not granted bail their cases may be expedited.

Intimation upon arrest

The CHRI report had stated that only 5.7% of FNPs in India — 222 out of 3,908 — have ever received consular access.

The Model Police Manual, 2016 prepared by the Bureau of Police Research and Development, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) provides that when foreign nationals are arrested on major criminal or civil charges, it is possible that the Foreign Diplomatic/Consular Missions in India may wish to assist the nationals of their countries in regard to their defence before a court of law.

Mr. Verma said as soon as a foreign national is arrested in a major crime, the fact, with a brief description of the offence should be brought to the notice of the MEA through the State government by the DGP/CP concerned.

Mr. Verma suggested that every police officer across NCT of Delhi must be made aware of the mandatory requirements and the form in which such process would be required to be carried out.

Based upon the request received from inmates, the MEA may request the consulates to visit their nationals to enable themto discharge their duties under Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

Timely aid

Many FNPs complained that during trial they did not understand the proceedings due to difference in language. In such a situation, Mr. Verma said the FNP concerned is mandatorily provided with a designated certified translator either from their embassy concerned or from the state itself. This, he said, was necessary to provide the FNP with correct information about the grounds of arrest and knowledge of the entailing process.

Contact with family

Each FNP, just like any other prisoner in India, is entitled to right to communicate with family and friends. Although the jail manuals contain provisions for facilitating contact with family for other prisoners, the same provisions either do not extend to FNPs or are too cumbersome to follow.

After the High Court took cognisance of the issue, now all foreigners are being allowed to make calls once in a week for 10 minutes at their own expenses. Mr. Verma said Indian nationals are allowed to speak five minutes a day.

Following the report, the High Court has requested the authorities to consider as to whether they can permit two calls in a week for 10 minutes each to the foreign inmates launched in jails.

Peerzada Ashiq, The Hindu’s Srinagar correspondent, recounts the four days when Kashmir was blacked out

A group of boys sit in front of closed shops during restrictions in Srinagar on August 6. reuters

His last dispatch from Srinagar came late on August 4, reporting the house arrest of former Chief Ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti and other leaders. Soon after, Kashmir was put under lockdown. He could not send any dispatches since then for lack of connectivity. With some ease in restrictions, The Hindu’s Srinagar Correspondent could recount the gruelling days as Jammu and Kashmir’s geography became history — when there was no means to know about the situation in J&K, or outside.

August 5: ‘Are we citizens or slaves now?’

The previous night, in fact, the whole of August 4 was gruelling for one and all in the Kashmir Valley. Fast changing news cycle — enhancing security grid, panic buying by locals and hyper political activity — kept all the reporters on their toes.

In between filing the dispatches, refuelling my car was the top priority. I managed after waiting in a long queue. Besides, a journalist friend also shared his stock with me.

Now, spending one hour with my expecting wife and two-year-old son became necessary. The first duty was to station my wife close to a hospital well stocked with baby food. It’s not easy to keep emergency services going in volatile Kashmir; a fact taught by the uncertain and volatile times of the past three decades. Rumours by now were turning fast into well-founded fears about what was impending: a change to over 4,000 years of history and geography of Jammu and Kashmir.

As the sun was setting behind the mighty Pir Panjal range and visible from the Dal lake, the anxiety of the impending dark night was never this frightful, not even in the 1990s. A sense of foreboding had engulfed the Valley. The dimension of the change to J&K was unknown though.

The reports of the leaders of the regional parties, like Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, being rounded up in the midnight raids was the last news alert I managed to send across to my office around 12.20 a.m. Another alert: “Let’s avoid using the word ‘curfew’ but ‘restrictions’” was not delivered because of the phased withdrawal of all means of communication lines in Kashmir, including the Internet, by 12.30 a.m.

Not many slept in Kashmir. People kept calling friends and loved ones, till the lines dropped completely into a dead silence. Many conversations, like mine with my wife, were cut short. We failed to bid the usual goodnight to each other.

The mobile phones turned into torches and cameras now. All cable channels turned into black screens. There was no means to know about the situation in J&K or outside.

It was unusually hot on Monday morning. The morning bread was available in the colony. However, breakfast was hard to gulp down. There was anxiety to know what has actually happened to J&K. The streets were the only means of communication left now. I stepped out and was spotted by a neighbour, a mechanic, who halted me with a loud proclamation: “Dafah 370 phutrovukh (Article 370 has been broken).”

He had heard it on his old-fashioned transistor.

There was need to double-check what sounded a fake news on the face of it. I reached a three-way street leading to the main road at Srinagar’s Hawal area, where I reside in the old city. A group of four people were sharing bits and pieces of information they gathered since the morning from different sources, including direct-to-home services.

The news, one neighbour said, brought more shame than shock to people in Kashmir, which has witnessed several decades of struggle for more rights to protect its distinct identity, geographical as well as political. “Are we citizens or slaves now,” one neighbour enquired.

August 6: Memories of 1953 and the 1990s

It was unusually silent on Tuesday. The milkmen failed to deliver their daily supply. The colony suddenly saw young and old forming circles for a group discussion. While the older ones recalled the episode of 1953, when popular Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah was arrested in August, and its aftermath. The younger ones recalled the 1990s. It seems August 5 has become third major rupture in J&K’s politics, which is for sure going to redefine its politics, people and times for ever.

On the main road, security forces stood like a wall to disallow any movement, except emergencies such as expectant mothers, cancer patients and funeral ceremonies of relatives. It was not an easy duty for the security personnel, who complained that “no lunch was served on Monday by the authorities”. A CRPF jawan said they faced stones in ones and twos. “We hope it ends soon,” said a jawan from Andhra Pradesh.

A group of youth tried to encircle five gun-toting security men on Tuesday evening in Hawal’s Firdous Cinema, which closed in 1990 never to screen any movie ever again. The incident took place when the security men were withdrawing around sunset after the day’s gruelling duty. It was reinforcements rushed to the spot that saved the men on duty. A few youth suffered pellet injuries in this exchange.

Local mosques also started to arrange special prayers, Nimazi Taubah (prayers for forgiveness).

“Allah has put us in the most difficult situation. Prayers are needed like never before,” said one.

August 7: ‘It is an unprecedented betrayal’

The authorities allowed beaming of NDTV on the cable and other entertainment channels. Music is back.

There is a sudden exodus of around 2,000 migrants from our mohalla. Hawal is known to host these skilled and unskilled labourers for three decades now, with separate buildings for them. “Some youth came and asked us to leave. They said ‘you may claim the building ownership now’,” said Naresh, a labourer. He was carrying bedding and stove on his head.

As details of the amendment to Article 370 and the Union Territory status was getting clear, mosque discussions were getting more agitated.

“Are we slaves that we deserve no Statehood? A civilisation with 5,000 years of history without geography and history now,” Bashir-ud-Din, a colony elder, blurted out in disgust, showing a local daily that continues to be in circulation but mainly carrying reports filed by agencies than staff reporters.

Outside the mosque, the youngsters are more agitated than the older folk. “It is an unprecedented betrayal. It needs an unprecedented response too,” said a young engineering graduate.

August 8: Silent streets, agitated homes

The attitude of the security forces has changed by now.

Locals riding bikes were allowed to fetch essentials from shops functioning from the houses.

Early morning and late evening are preferred times to escape any stone battles in the old city.

Vegetables no more come from across the Jawahar Tunnel but from the backwaters of the Dal lake, which covers many parts of the old city, making eatables available for now. But with autumn setting next month, it will dry up too. However, cereals are going off the breakfast table. ATMs in our area are either inaccessible due to security arrangements or running dry. “No cash vans are coming to the old city,” said Basheer Ahmad, an ATM guard of J&K Bank in Hawal.

Meals are getting simpler. Mutton, a staple diet for locals, is no more available.

The debates on the scrapping of special status are getting more and more animated within families, but streets are silent.

About 1.65 lakh people are evacuated to 1,318 relief camps; red alert for Wayanad, Kannur, Kasaragod

Nature’s fury: Only nine bodies of the 40 people who were caught in the landslip in Kavalappara, Malappuram, have been recovered. The rescue mission has been suspended midway following two fresh landslips. Sakeer Hussain

Diminished rainfall offered some respite to central Kerala districts on Saturday, but the overall situation continued to be grim, prompting government agencies to maintain high alert levels.

The death toll in rain-related calamities climbed to 57 at the time of filing this report. Over the past three days, 19 deaths have been reported in Malappuram, 14 in Kozhikode and 10 in Wayanad, a government update at 7 p.m. said.

More than 1.65 lakh people (46,400 families) have been evacuated to 1,318 relief camps so far, the government said.

At the landslip site at Puthumala, Meppadi, in Wayanad one more body was recovered on Saturday. Nine bodies have been retrieved from the area so far. Inclement weather forced rescue workers to halt the search operations temporarily by noon.

One spillway shutter of the Banasurasagar reservoir, maintained by the Kerala State Electricity Board, in Wayanad was opened 10 cm as a precautionary measure.

80 landslips in two days

North Kerala districts can expect heavy rainfall on Sunday also. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has issued red alerts for Wayanad, Kannur and Kasaragod.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, addressing the media after a review of the situation, said 80 landslips have struck eight flood-hit districts over the past two days.

“Landslips are occurring in the most unexpected places. Rescue operations are in progress in all the affected districts,” he said.

15 teams from Visakhapatnam join relief work in Kolhapur and Sangli

All-time high: Sangli has already received 758% rainfall over the long period average. In 2005, the area recorded only 217% over the course of 31 days.Jignesh Mistry

Intensifying relief operations in the flood-hit parts of Maharashtra, the Navy on Saturday airlifted 15 teams from Visakhapatnam deploying them in the severely-affected areas of Shirol in Kolhapur and Sangli, while the Army is operating nine relief and 12 engineer teams.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said a team of 100 doctors had been despatched to the region even as thousands of stranded people were rescued from the submerged areas, including 1,016 persons from the Maharashtra-Karnataka border. Rescue work by the Goa Naval Area is under way in Kolhapur and Uttar Kannada (Karnataka) district and so far 602 women and 193 children had been rescued. In another operation by the special teams of the Bombay Sappers of the Army, 4,800 persons were evacuated from Kolhapur and Sangli.

“We have asked for more rescue teams from Punjab, Odisha, Gujarat and Goa. Another 15 teams of the Navy are reaching today. As many as 95 boats have been deployed for rescue operations,” Mr. Fadnavis said after a tour of the regions. The toll from across the State this week stood at 30, officials said.

Several National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams carried out a rescue mission in Hasur and Nrusinhwadi, in Kolhapur district to evacuate four pregnant women, who were later sent to the hospital.

Speaker says Lok Sabha had the most productive session since 1952, lauds commitment of members

“The day the Central government introduced the J&K Reorganisation Bill, 2019 was the most challenging day of the recently concluded first session of the 17th Lok Sabha,” Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla told The Hindu on Saturday on the sidelines of his press conference about the various initiatives that he proposes to bring in.

Elaborating on how he dealt with this “challenging day”, the Speaker said: “The House functioned smoothly that day with the members of the House having confidence in the Chair that adequate time would be given to everyone and that no voice, opinion, argument or discussion on the subject would go unheard.”

“The House, which has had the most productive session since 1952, was able to function smoothly because of the commitment and discipline that was shown by the members and we had many occasions where people set their party differences aside to agree on very important matters. Running the House needs the cooperation of each member, and we are proud to tell the nation that this time around we did our very best,” the Speaker said.

‘Discipline a must’

Asked about the incident where Samajwadi Party MP Azam Khan had to apologise in the Lok Sabha for making “sexist” remarks against BJP MP Rama Devi, the Speaker said: “Discipline is vital while running this temple of democracy. Our aim is to run this House in the best way possible and make it the best in the world. We are committed to this.”

Giving details of the work conducted during the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha, he said that work began on June 17 and was to conclude on July 26, but it was extended till August 7. The session had 37 sittings of a total 280 hours and saw the passage of 35 Bills. The House sat for 75 hours late in the evening to transact business. As many as 1,086 issues were raised by members, mostly first-timers, during the Zero Hour.

Out of the 265 first-time members, 229 got a chance to speak during the Zero Hour, while 42 out of 46 women MPs also spoke during the same period.

“Besides trying to go paperless in the next session and having hour-long routine briefing for MPs on the Bills being introduced in the House, we have requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to include the expansion and modernisation of the Parliament building in his resolution for “New India”, marking the completion of 75 years of Independence in 2022,” the Speaker said.

On the suggestion for construction of a new building for Parliament which had been mooted during the tenure of former Speaker Meira Kumar, Mr. Birla said: “We will invite suggestions on this matter and then finalise this.”

While the BJP is preparing for the Assembly elections, workers of the regional parties are in limbo as their leaders have been put under detention

Back to normal: Vendors bringing goats for Id sacrifice in Jammu where ban orders have been lifted in most places.AP

How the democratic process will evolve in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, after the State ceases to exist on October 31, is unclear.

While the BJP says it is gearing up for the Assembly election, workers of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the National Conference (NC) have been left rudderless as their leaders remain under detention.

Political parties in the State are trying to make sense of the Centre’s decision on August 5 to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s constitutionally guaranteed special status under Article 370 that gave it some form of autonomy.

In the wake of the announcement, the government snapped all communication channels in Kashmir, put political leaders, including former Chief Ministers Mehbooba Mufti of the PDP and Omar Abdullah of the NC, under detention and imposed restrictions on movement of people.

The Prime Minister has promised elections soon, at a time when there is anger against the Centre’s move in Kashmir and cautious celebrations in Jammu. The new Union Territory of Ladakh will not have a Legislative Assembly — while the decision has been welcomed in Leh district, protests have erupted in Kargil.

Core promise

For the BJP, the fulfilling of one of its core promises — one that the founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, had advocated — has been, and will be, the focus of its campaign. Part of its rationale for the revocation of J&K’s special status, the BJP says, is that the stakeholders in the State, the PDP and the NC, have failed the people over the past 70 years.

While BJP leaders say they are ready for election, PDP and NC leaders and workers here have had no communication from the leadership, leaving them waiting and watching. The Hindu spoke to political workers from both parties, all of whom expressed worry for what lay ahead. Many raised the possibility of separatists and “outsiders” trying to fill the vacuum left by mainstream politicians.

Ravinder Raina, president of the BJP’s J&K State unit, said the party had been reaching out to communities, particularly Gujjars and Bakarwals, to tell them about the advantages of removal of Articles 370 and 35A, including reservation for the Scheduled Tribes.

“As soon as the law and order situation improves, we are 100% ready [for elections],” he said. He said the people of the State had been “held hostage by the political system”, which, he said, would change now.

BJP J&K general secretary Yudhvir Sethi said the outreach had started months ago.

“I was in Baramulla a month-and-half ago to hold meetings. Our leaders have been reaching out to people in the Valley also. Our message is that we will be better representatives of the concerns of the Valley, better than Valley-based parties. We will bring good governance and equal development to Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.

Caught unawares

With NC chief and Srinagar MP Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah unavailable, party workers in Jammu said they were waiting to decide their response, but condemned the government’s decision.

“When you tie up a person’s hands and legs and gag his mouth and say now speak, how will it work? On the basis of majority, this is a constitutional coup,” said NC Jammu provincial secretary and former MLC Sheikh Bashir Ahmed.

He said Mr. Farooq Abdullah had advocated for a “secular India to the whole world. Now, what reply will he give?”

To understand the problem facing the State today, Mr. Ahmed said it was important to remember the past. He said the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to Independent India was a conditional one, and one that was carried out by the ruler, Hari Singh, under pressure.

“Within the framework of the Constitution, we have to ask for our rights. The day this democracy ends, this India will not remain,” he said.

On their part, PDP leaders said they had lost contact with senior party leaders and were left in the dark for now.

“Article 370 gave us an identity and security. It was not only for the people of Kashmir Valley, it protected all of us. What has happened has broken people’s hearts. The government is trying to paint Mehboobaji as against India. How can people who contest elections and take an oath of the Constitution, not be nationalists,” asked PDP leader and former MLA candidate R.K. Bali.

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