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Keep searching for soldier believed to be dead in ’71 war: SC

Thursday 5 May 2005

New Delhi, May. 5 (PTI): Who says mythology has no meaning for the courts?

As if taking a cue from the famous Savitri-Satyavan story, the Supreme Court, acting on the belief of a lady that her husband was alive despite the official position that he died in the 1971 Indo-Pak war, has asked the Ministry of External Affairs and the Border Security Force (BSF) to continue the search for the soldier.

Dealing with a petition filed by Angerj Kaur seeking a direction for release of her husband from a Pakistani Jail, a Bench comprising Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice S H Kapadia said "in mythology Sati Savitri’s prayer ensured that her husband Satyavan, escaped the jaws of death."

According to the petitioner, her husband Surjit Singh, a BSF soldier, was reported missing in December 1971. The authorities declared him dead and granted her family pension.

In spite of all these, Kaur believed that her husband was alive and was pleasantly surprised when one Khushi Mohammed, who had returned from a jail in Pakistan in 2004 after 14 years, recognised the photograph of Surjit Singh and said he was lodged in "Kot Lakhpat Rai Jail".

Two more prisoners released by Pakistan also recognised her husband’s photograph and when her representations to the authorities for his release from Pakistani jail did not evoke any positive response, she approached the apex Court with a habeas corpus petition.

Disposing the petition, the Bench said "the authorities shall continue the efforts to find out the actual position and expeditiously intimate the petitioner, the results of the efforts/inquiries made by them."

Though the court disposed of Kaur’s petition, it said "let the status report indicating the latest development in the matter be filed within three months before the Bench."

The Court was satisfied that the BSF had made earnest attempts to trace Surjit Singh by raising the matter with the Pakistani counterparts at various routine meetings.

"We are satisfied that the BSF authorities have taken all possible steps to find out the petitioner’s husband. Let the Ministry of External Affairs, which was requested by the BSF authorities to look into the matter, also intervene in the matter," the Bench directed.

Writing for the Bench, Justice Pasayat said if a soldier, while fighting for the country’s security, was captured and taken to the other country’s prison contrary to the official belief that he was dead, it would be in the interest of not only the petitioner and her family members but also for the armed forces of this country to see that he was brought back to the country.

However, the court clarified that by this order it should not be understood that it was issuing a direction to anybody outside the country exceeding its jurisdiction.

"It is not to be understood that we are issuing a writ of habeas corpus to any authority outside India. Our directions essentially relate to Indian officials. But it cannot be lost sight of that law cannot ever be a combination of meaningless and purposeless combination of words," Justice Pasayat said.

However, refusing to confine the judgments to mere technicality, the court said "within the four corners of the legal framework, the reliefs can be moulded to achieve the ultimate objective, that is to deliver justice."

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