It speaks as much of the poor preparation that goes into Indian appeals for extraditions from the United Kingdom as to the jaundiced approach of British courts that though 24 years have elapsed since the two countries signed an extradition treaty, only one Indian request for extradition has succeeded so far. The others have been dismissed by the British judicial system in what is evidently a colonial hangover at play.
That solitary Indian government request which reached fruition related to Samirbhai Vinubhai Patel, wanted in connection with a 2002 Gujarat riots case. Unlike other individuals wanted by India, Patel, 40, did not oppose the extradition, cutting short the long extradition process. He was arrested on August 9 last year and, on September 22, British home secretary Amber Rudd signed the extradition order. This was truly an exceptional case.
Last month, a British court, which is currently hearing the extradition case of liquor baron Vijay Mallya, rejected two extradition requests by Indian authorities. Judges at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London ruled in favour of UK-based alleged bookie Sanjeev Kumar Chawla on October 16 and also discharged a fraud case against a British Indian couple, Jatinder and Asha Rani Angurala, on October 12. What is particularly galling is the fact that in the case of Chawla, the discharge was on grounds of human rights on the basis that conditions in Tihar Jail in Delhi where he was to be held on being extradited were not upto the standards. While conditions in Tihar jail are not in conformity with British standards, the bitter truth is also that the British having ruled India in the 18th and 19th centuries still have a tendency to look down upon most things Indian because of a colonial hangover.
It would be foolhardy for the Narendra Modi government to allow this rejection to rest. What use is an extradition treaty if considerations like this are to determine the course of Indian appeals for extradition? Strangely, the judge said she was satisfied there was a prima facie case against Chawla over his role in the fixing of “cricket matches played between India and South Africa during the tour of the South African Cricket Team to India under the captainship of Hansie Cronje in February-March 2000.”
She said on hearing expert evidence from Dr Alan Mitchell, a licensed medical practitioner and a former medical officer at a Scottish prison, she ruled in favour of Chawla on the grounds that his human rights would be violated in Tihar Jail under Section 87, Article 3 relating to “prohibition of torture, or inhuman or degrading treatment”.
“[There are] strong grounds for believing that the RP [Requested Person: Chawla] would be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the Tihar prison complex, due to the overcrowding, lack of medical provision, risk of being subjected to torture and violence either from other inmates or prison staff which is endemic in Tihar,” Judge Crane noted in her judgment.
While this is a shame on the Indian jail system, we need to take a cue from this and improve conditions in Indian jails. Yet, that does not mean that British courts are entitled to reject extraditions due to poor jail conditions. At best, they can direct their government to ensure that High Commission officials are allowed access to the accused to guard against his human rights being violated. No other country has questioned India’s right to hold fugitives in Indian prisons due to poor jail conditions.
This and another British ruling in an extradition case come just weeks before the extradition case against Mallya, wanted in India on loan defaults to several banks amounting to about Rs 9,000-crore, comes up for its next case management hearing on November 20 to determine the course of the extradition trial scheduled to start on December 4. Vijay Mallya was arrested in London after an extradition request from India on charges of financial fraud, but was released on bail within three hours in an extraordinarily swift decision.
For extradition, the UK has placed India in category two countries, for which the process is arduous and long. In category one, there are the US and European countries, which get preference. If the UK extradites Mallya, it will also have to move on other pending requests from India. Besides Mallya, there are other high-profile Indians on the wanted list in India whose cases need to be taken up with a changed approach. The list of others whom India has sought to extradite include Lalit Modi (for alleged financial offences), Ravi Sankaran (in the navy war room leak case), Nadeem Saifi (in the Gulshan Kumar murder case) and Tiger Hanif (in the Gujarat blasts case). In more recent days there is also religious preacher Zakir Naik whose nefarious deeds have been well-documented by India. Surely, the onus is on India to prove that these persons deserve to be extradited so that they can stand trial in this country but there should be no room for the British to doubt the integrity of Indian courts.
The Indian government is justifiably striving to break the myth that they can escape the law if they fly abroad. The Indian judicial system is robust and judges in India are fully capable of meting out justice. If there is a problem, it is in regard to judicial delays in dispensing justice which are endemic in India due to the huge backlog of cases and the grant of too many adjournments in the course of hearings. Yet, India can be proud of its judicial traditions and the British attitude of condescension is worthy of condemnation.
The author is a political commentator and columnist. He has authored four books.