Rohingya: Centre questions bona fides of petitioners, alleges intention to “change demography”

Rohingya: Centre questions bona fides of petitioners, alleges intention to “change demography”

Murali Krishnan

The hearing in the petitions relating to the Rohingya case witnessed some strong submissions by Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta today.

Appearing before a Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, Mehta questioned the intention and bona fides of the petitioners.

Mehta was responding to advocates Prashant Bhushan and Senior Advocate Ashwani Kumar who were appearing for the petitioners.

Bhushan’s submissions today were two-fold. He first argued on how new Rohingya refugees were being pushed back without even verifying whether they are refugees or not.

“They are not allowing anybody without a valid visa. They are not even examining whether they are refugees or not. Rohingyas are entitled to protection under various international conventions. Of course, they won’t have visas. They are fleeing after their villages were burnt down.”

He then told the Court he was, at present, more concerned with the conditions of the refugees, who are already in India.

“Right now, I am concerned with the health and other conditions in the refugees camps”, he said.

Tushar Mehta then told the Court that everybody in India will get medical facilities, irrespective of whether they are citizens or not.

“They [the petitioners] are relying on some newspaper reports. I don’t know what interests are being protected here”, said Mehta.

“It is the interest of humanity”, was Bhushan’s response.

Senior Advocate Ashwani Kumar then submitted that the issue is of Article 21 and adherence to international conventions.

“The core issue is whether India will stand up to Article 21, whether India will stand up to Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, whether India will stand up to international conventions”, he said.

Mehta responded strongly by saying that,

“Your Lordships should not pass orders for the purpose of media headlines. I represent the Union of India, I represent the interest of the nation. I cannot place before this Court the diplomatic solutions that are being worked out.”

He then questioned the bona fides of the petitioners.

“The manner in which so many PILs are coming in, Your Lordships will have to look into it.

Who wants demography [in the country] to be changed, who wants destabilization?”

Senior Advocate Mahesh Jethmalani also echoed the opinion of Mehta.

“When the government says that it is being done, then why are they insisting for site visit? This is for headlines”, he submitted.

The Court then proceeded to adjourn the matter for April 9.

In September last year, the Centre had filed an affidavit opposing the petition filed in the Supreme Court. The primary stand of the Centre was that the issue falls within the domain of the Executive and the same cannot be interfered with by the courts. It was also averred that some of the 40,000-odd Rohingya Muslims residing in India have linkages to Pakistan-based terror outfits and ISIS. Moreover, according to the Centre’s intelligence, the Rohingyas are indulging in human trafficking.

In its rejoinder submissions, the petitioners had called the Centre out for making blanket submissions regarding the Rohingya refugees. Further, it was argued that though India is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention of 1951, it is bound by the principle of non-refoulement, one of the tenets of customary International Law.

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