Arguments Summary Day 5: March 19, 2018.
The 3 judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A.M. Khanwilkar, D.Y. Chandrachud, continued hearing the Rohingya Deportation Case, which challenges the government’s policy to deport Rohingya who have taken refuge in India due to a fear of persecution in Myanmar.
In the previous hearing on March 7th, Mr Prashant Bhushan had argued that the government should treat the Rohingya refugee on par with the Sri Lankan Tamil refugee in matters of education and health services. On 16th March 2018, the Union of India filed a counter-affidavit to this I.A. clarifying the following points - it denied the use of chilli sprays and stun grenades by Border Security Forces to deter refugees from entering the country; that parity with Sri Lankan Tamil refugees is not possible as it is based on the India-Ceylon Agreement of 1964 and no such agreement with Myanmar exists; and finally, that deportation is a policy prerogative which cannot be decided by Court.
Today's hearing started with Mr Bhushan arguing that the pushback at the border continues. All Rohingya, irrespective of their situation, are being rejected entry at the border. He reiterated that various international entities and forums have recognised that the violence in Myanmar has reached the level of ‘genocide’. India has a non-derogable obligation to give refuge to the persecuted minority. ASG Tushar Mehta submitted that the matter should be solved through diplomatic channels, which was already in process.
Mr Colin Gonsalves, representing one of the petitioners Mr Zafar Ullah, submitted that the Union is so biased against the Rohingya as a group that it is denying them even the most basic entitlements such as food and water. Mr. Bhushan added that the Rohingya residing in India are being denied access to health and education facilities as well. Mr Tushar Mehta objected to this line of reasoning and pointed out that the Union’s affidavit makes it clear that citizen or non-citizen, no person in India is being denied health or education.
At this point, the petitioners requested the bench to pass an interim order asking the Union to ensure access to basic services to the Rohingya. Mr Tushar Mehta urged the bench not to pass any order on the basis of unverified media headlines and added that courts should not intervene in a matter that is being resolved through diplomatic exercises. The bench refused to pass an interim order with regard to ensuring the health and educational facilities for Rohingya refugees unless petitioners brought some material contradicting the claims of the Centre.
Mr Gonsalves raised the issue of Rohingya deaths in the Refugee camps owing to extremely unhygienic conditions. The court directed the Centre to file a comprehensive report within 4 weeks on the conditions in the Rohingya refugee camps especially in the states of Haryana, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir.
The next hearing is scheduled for 9th April 2018.
(The report relies on contributions from Mr. Ayush Puri.)