Delays of several years by India and Pakistan in the Nationality Verification process of the two countries' fisherfolk arrested by each other, leads to prolonged jail stay on both sides, which activists have termed as 'inhuman torture'.
As per the latest information with the Pakistan India Peoples Forum for Peace & Democracy (PIPFPD), as many as 207 Indian fisherfolk from Gujarat coast remain in custody of Pakistan, and 99 Pakistani fishermen are in custody of India as of Thursday.
The governments of both countries are required to grant Consular Access (CA) - as per the agreement signed on May 21, 2008 - within three months after they are held, PIPFPD activists said.
"Unfortunately, both countries flout this agreement and fail to grant CA to the arrested fisherfolk on both sides. While Pakistan has granted CA to only 107, the figures of Pakistan verifying the nationality of its fishermen, are not made available," PIPFPD activist Jatin Desai told IANS.
Strangely, despite having all documents, out of these 107, India has not yet confirmed the nationality of 78 of the Indian fishermen, he added.
The swoop on fisherfolk is carried out in the Arabian Sea on the southern coast of Pakistan by its Maritime Security Agency (MSA) and north-west coast of India Coast Guard (ICG) respectively, across the International Maritime Boundary Line.
From India, the fisherfolk nabbed hail mostly from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home-state, of Gujarat.
The action is on a regular basis by both the MSA and ICG when they pick up fisherfolk who stray into each other's territorial waters (IMBL), PIPFPD General Secretary (India) M. J. Vijayan said.
Citing official records, Desai said that India has the complete details of all its fishermen right down to their native villages, but it is not clear why these are not submitted to complete the crucial Nationality Verification process to expedite their release from jail and repatriation back home.
"Many of the fisherfolk have already completed their long jail terms, but since India has failed to verify their nationality, they continue to languish in prisons for several more years. Even after India has confirmed the nationality of the 29 fisherfolk, Pakistan has not yet released or repatriated them," rued Desai.
The instances of Venod Mirji, Suneel P. Lal, Rajo Vinod, Bachilal Ramsevak, Babu P. Lal and others are shocking, said Vijayan.
"Mirji's jail term ended on May 23, 2017, granted CA in August that year, but his nationality is still not verified and he remains in a Pakistani prison.
"Similarly with three others -- Suneel P. Lal, Ramsehwak and one Babu who completed their jail sentences on February 21, 2018 -- even granted CA after months, but India has yet to confirm their nationality. So, all languish in jails there," Vijayan said.
They added that this delay in verifying their nationalities by India has hurt the rights of the fishermen and their families, and tantamous to "inhuman torture" at the least.
The PIPFPD has demanded that both countries must implement the 2008 agreement in toto and confirm the nationality of their arrested citizens within the specified period of three months after CA, which is not difficult in the era of Information Technology.
Pakistan must also reciprocate the Indian government by appointing the respective members for the Joint Judicial Committee on Prisoners, a mechanism instituted way back in 2007, but rendered defunct since 2013-end.
Accordingly, despite a mechanism available, the sad picture is that both countries don't provide CA within three months of arrest, nor release and repatriate the fisherfolk within one month of completion of their jail sentences and confirming their nationality status.