Mahesh Trivedi | Clarion India
AHMEDABAD – The Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi and the Bharatiya Janata Party-controlled Gujarat government are heading for a showdown in a court of law over custody of a Pakistani citizen who is being denied an exit visa by Indian authorities.
The Gujarat High Court will on Tuesday hear a habeas corpus petition filed by the embassy which has sought custody of Pakistani national Sajjad Vora and demanded Rs 20 lakhs as compensation for his ‘illegal detention’ for the past one year even after clean chits given by courts in a criminal case.
The saffron regime in Gujarat has, however, thrown a spanner in the commission’s works by telling the High Court that Vora (28), who was booked in a fake currency case in 2016 and cleared of charges in July last year, could not be allowed to leave India as it was all set to challenge his acquittal in the Supreme Court.
Armed with a one-year travel visa, the Karachi resident belonging to the Dawoodi Bohra community had reached Amritsar via Wagah border on his way to Surat to meet his relatives in November, 2016. But, a month later, when he and his kinsmen were leaving for Mumbai for a religious gathering from the Surat railway station, the police nabbed him with fake currency worth Rs 50,000.
Vora was booked and prosecuted before a sessions court in Surat which set him free in August 2018 even as his visa expired in 2017. But he was not permitted to leave India as the state administration appealed against the acquittal by the lower court in the High Court which, however, threw out the appeal and allowed Vora walk free in July, 2019.
But the ordeal of the Pakistani citizen stuck in Surat was still not over. Champing at the bit to return to Karachi, he rushed to the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) in Mumbai for an exit visa as his visa had expired in 2017. But the FRRO asked him to produce a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the Surat railway police who had collared him in 2016 but the latter did not oblige Vora.
When even attempts by his advocate Aum Kotwal to persuade FRRO and the Surat railway police for the past one year came unstuck, he last month again knocked at the door of the Gujarat High Court with a special civil application seeking directions to the Indian authorities to provide him permission to return to Pakistan.
But on July 6, a year after Vora was absolved of all the charges, the state government woke up from its slumber and informed the high court about its plan to move the apex court against his acquittal by lower courts.
With Vora running from pillar to post for one year for necessary documents so as to return to Karachi, the Pakistan government and the Pakistan High Commission learnt about his plight and last week moved a habeas corpus petition in the high court.
The high commission has said in the petition that “the life and liberty of the illegal detainee are in danger at the hands of respondents (state government) and the future uncertain as he faces darkness around him, with denial of any hearing, by any authority.”
The strongly-worded petition, filed by Muni Akhtar Satti, an embassy official, says that Vora was in “illegal detention by the people, who are responsible for human rights protection and are guardians of law….because tolerance of such illegal detention, would amount to acceptance of systematic subversion and erosion of rule of law…because the illegal detention of the illegal detainee is the worst kind of crime in a civilized society because it is the negation of rule of law. It tarnishes the image of the nation…”
The division bench hearing the case has questioned the state government to explain in detail why it took one year for deciding to challenge the Pakistani citizen’s acquittal in the Supreme Court, and called for necessary documents submitted by the state for filing of the special leave petition in the top court.
The court has also sought a response from the FRRO on why exit visa was not issued to Vora after his acquittal, but also sought the authority letter of the Pakistan High Commission official Satti who has filed the habeas corpus.
Further hearing in the nail-biting legal battle is scheduled for Tuesday.
Relations between India and its arch rival Pakistan have soured since August last when the Islamabad suspended all trade and transport ties with New Delhi soon after the latter revoked autonomy and statehood for the disputed territory of Kashmir, a bone of contention between the two neighbouring countries for decades.
Tension mounted last month after both the countries, who for last one year do not have an ambassador in in their respective capitals, accused each other of illegally detaining and torturing their diplomats.
India expelled two Pakistani diplomats in May on spying charges but Islamabad dismissed the allegations as ‘baseless’. Last month, India threatened to throw out half of the New Delhi-based Pakistani embassy staff for the same, leaving Pakistan seething with anger.