Some 70% of 121 people who fled India and are being pursued for alleged crimes back home have taken shelter in four countries, the government has said, identifying those destinations as the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Canada.
According to data from the ministry of external affairs obtained through a Right to Information (RTI) query, India wants these people extradited or deported from 24 countries. The RTI response refused to provide information on when extradition and deportation requests were made in each of these cases.
Experts say that at the heart of the problem is a difference in legal principles and procedure, and they cite some instances where authorities in India may have even allegedly sabotaged efforts to protect fugitives.
The four countries named above, which were sent the bulk of the requests at 83, also have some of the most difficult extradition procedures, making it easier for fugitives.
Go back in time to the Khalistanis, go back to the early movement of the Kashmiris, and go back to the Nagaland. The leadership has always been provided a safe haven in these countries,” said Ajay Sahni, counter-terrorism experts.
Sahni criticised the fact that the basis of state protection was the principle: One man’s terrorist could be another man’s freedom fighter.
Senior human rights lawyer Colin Gonsalves said pending requests do not mean the countries are soft on criminals.
“These countries want India to ensure fair trial, no torture during interrogation, humane prison conditions, and no death sentence. But India has failed to ensure all four points,” he said.
“It’s entirely because Indian police and investigating agencies have a bad reputation worldwide. Instead of improving the system, you blame others,” he said.
According to the website of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which is the prosecuting agency in many of these cases, India has an extradition treaty with 18 of the 24 countries where its fugitives are hiding. The pending applications suggest the treaties may not be making it any easier to push appeals through.
Among the most prominent people sought by India from the US are David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Rana, suspects in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Headley is serving a 35-year term and Rana a 14-year sentence after being convicted by American courts.
Ashok Chand, former additional commissioner of police (crime), who investigated cases such as the Red Fort attack in 2000 and the Parliament attack in 2001, said, “Lack of proper appreciation of facts or misplaced sympathy for fugitives by these countries are the main reason why the request to extradite them have remained pending till date.”
Sahni said in some cases India deliberately misrepresented the cases by not following proper procedures while in others, the evidence and evidentiary criteria don’t stand up to the requirement of the western court system.