Stating that diplomatic efforts were on to resolve the issue of Rohingya refugees, the Centre on Monday strongly opposed in Supreme Court PILs filed on the subject and urged the court to leave the matter to the executive. “Way in which various PILs are filed… Court will have to go into what is the genesis of these, who wants demographic change, who wants destabilisation, who wants to harm internal security,” Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud.
The court was hearing a petition filed by two Rohingya refugees and a batch of PILs on the issue. The petitioners have claimed that medical and educational facilities were being denied to Rohingya living in the camps. The Centre denied this, following which the court refused to pass any interim order. However, acting on another plea, the court asked the Centre and states to file a “comprehensive report” on living conditions of Rohingya refugees in camps in Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir in two weeks.
Mehta upped the ante when petitioner counsel Prashant Bhushan referred to an affidavit filed by the Home Ministry last week. It denied charges that BSF was pushing back Rohingya refugees at the border using stun guns and chilly grenades. Bhushan contended that the affidavit also stated that as per the Passport Act of 1920, “every foreigner entering India must be in possession of a valid national passport or any other internationally recognised travel document establishing his/her nationality and identity and bearing — (a) his/her photograph’ and (b) a valid visa for India granted by an authorised Indian representative abroad”. This effectively meant that the Rohingya who did not have visa were being pushed back, he said. “Obviously the Rohingya won’t have visa… There is a genocide against them and they are fleeing.
Mehta countered: “PIL petitioners are making all sorts of false claims with impunity. How can they say Government of India is making false statement? What interests are we trying to protect here?” Bhushan replied, “Humanity’s interest.” “Someday the court will have to even look into it,” said Mehta, “I’m saying no person living in India is denied health or education benefits.” Senior counsel Colin Gonsalves said there was a bias and Rohingya children were not being admitted to schools or hospitals. Mehta countered, “I have given an assurance on affidavit.”
He added that diplomatic efforts were on with neighbouring countries to solve the refugee crisis. The discussions could not be made public at this stage, he said, adding these issues were better left to the executive. Bhushan urged the court to pass an interim order to ensure that the government fulfils what it has said in its affidavit. But the court refused, saying “unless you show something contradictory (to what has been said by the government), we can’t”.