It has been more than five years since India and Bangladesh signed a treaty for swapping of sentenced prisoners. But with no progress on the ground, the authorities in West Bengal, which has almost half of the country’s foreign prisoners — mostly Bangladeshis who were arrested due to various reasons — crying for implementing the agreement.
Signed in January 2010, the agreement entails allowing foreigners who have been convicted and sentenced, to serve their prison term in their own country.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), of the 6,000-odd foreign prisoners in India in 2014, 2,935 - including 1,113 convicts - were lodged in various Bengal correctional homes, the highest in the country. Barring a few Nigerians and some Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, the others are all Bangladeshis.
The trend has continued in 2015, with nearly 4,000 Bangladeshis lodged in various jails in the state.
As per the latest records of the state correctional services department, the total Bangladeshi prisoner population in the state stands at 3,757, including 175 children.
Considering this, the state correctional services department has been calling for implementing the agreement on swapping convicts.
“It has been more than five years since the agreement was signed but unfortunately nothing has been done at the ground level to transfer the prisoners.
Till August this year, at least 1,000 Bangladeshi prisoners formally expressed their desire to serve their term in Bangladesh but the central government is yet to act on this,” former Additional Director General of Police (Prisons) Adhir Sharma said.
Sharma, who recently handed over charge, has been batting for some time for the agreement to take effect.
“According to the NCRB estimates, over Rs 25,000 is spent on a single prisoner and considering the large population of foreign prisoners, the state has to needlessly bear approximately Rs 10 crore annually on them, especially when we have the option of sending them to their own country for serving their term,” said Sharma.
As the occupancy rates often go beyond capacity in most of the correctional homes, the authorities say the implementation of the agreement was now indispensable.
With many Indians, especially from Bengal, lodged in various Bangladeshi jails, Sharma, who presided over a meeting on consular access for Bangladeshi nationals, also proposed maintaining and exchanging the list of prisoners in India and Bangladesh.
“As per an agreement on consular access, India and Pakistan maintain a comprehensive list of the nationals of the other country under its arrest, detention or imprisonment and it is exchanged twice in the year, said Sharma.