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The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Centre to keep an 83-year-old woman apprised of steps taken to trace her son, who was a Captain in Indian Army. Capain Sanjit Bhattacharjee, who has been missing since 1997, is believed to be languishing in Pakistan jail for the past 25 years.

The Indian Army officer’s mother had moved the Supreme Court seeking release of her son. During the hearing, the Supreme Court asked the Union Government to periodically apprise the mother of the steps being taken to ascertain the officer’s whereabouts and his release.

While noting that the Union Government has been taking steps in case of missing Captain Sanjit Bhattacharjee, a bench headed by Justice Chandrachud stressed the need to follow up on these steps by pursuing the case with concerned authorities.

“The Union government has detailed the steps which have been taken from to time. We impress upon the Union Government the need to follow up on these steps by pursuing matter with the concerned authorities. The Petitioner may be periodically kept apprised of further steps or developments which have taken place, preferably on a quarterly basis,” the court recorded.

In response to court’s order directing the Centre to file an updated status report in the case, the Ministry of External affairs through its affidavit informed the court that the Government of India has been pursuing his case regularly through diplomatic and other channels.

During the hearing, Advocate Saurabh Mishra appearing for the petitioner submitted that some definite steps need to be taken in the present case. He also suggested that a committee headed by retired General be constituted

“ You can’t have a committee of retired general, this is at a diplomatic level. It’s difficult for us to tell government you must do this, or do this.” Justice Chandrachud said in response.

Referring to the manner in which the petitioner’s son went missing, the bench said “If there’s an ambush and soldiers have to run, one can understand. If without an ambush a platoon of 17 go and 2 out of them disappear, those 15 may have some idea. This is very unfortunate.”

ASG Natarajan, appearing for Union of India, submitted that the government has been trying its best, as everything will have to be sorted out only through diplomatic channel, nothing further could be done at this moment. He added that while the government has been communicating, the presence of petitioner’s son hasn’t been acknowledged by Pakistan.

Indian government’s affidavit

The Government of India made the following submissions in its affidavit before the court:

-The Government of India has been pursuing the case of Captain Sanjit Bhattacharjee regularly through diplomatic and other available channels.

-The High Commission of India in Islamabad has been regularly taking up the matter with the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs for ascertaining the whereabouts and early release and repatriation of missing Indian defence personnel, believed to be in Pakistan’s custody.

-Bhattacharjee’a name appears in the list of missing Indian defence personnel shared with Pakistan through various Notes Verbale issued by the High Commission of India.

-The Government of Pakistan has not acknowledged the presence of Captain Sanjit Bhattacharjee in its custody till date.

-The Government of India, including through the High Commission of India, Islamabad, is making every effort to get any information regarding the petitioner’s son.

-The Government of India will continue to raise this issue with the Government of Pakistan, requesting it to respond on the status of Captain Sanjit Bhattacharjee.

WHAT IS THE CASE?

The present petitioner is an 83-year-old woman who moved the Supreme Court seeking directions for repatriation or release of her son, Captain Bhattacharjee from Kot Lakhpat central jail in Pakistan.

The petitioner’s son was commissioned as an officer in a regiment of Indian army on 22 August 1992.

She avers that her son was patrolling on border in Rann of Kutch, when he was found to have gone missing. The family was informed in April 1997 that her son remained untraceable despite efforts.

The petitioner alleged that no appropriate action has been taken for her son’s release by the government. She was therefore demanding a representation of the government of India in this matter and seeking necessary action for the release of her son.

The petitioner said that it is pertinent for government of India to take instantaneous steps in this matter because already twenty-three years have passed since her son has gone missing and he has been languishing in the jail of Pakistan without any fault.

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