India, U.K. to talk amid rows

India, U.K. to talk amid rows

Agenda includes controversial subjects of extradition and immigration

Two days after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj divulged contents of a conversation between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his British counterpart, Theresa May, over the extradition of fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya, Indian officials are willing to push the case to deport Mr. Mallya with British officials at the Home Affairs dialogue in Delhi on Wednesday.

The dialogue has already run into several controversies.

On Monday, Ms. Swaraj said Mr. Modi had snubbed Ms. May during their meeting in London in April when she had raised concerns over the poor condition of Indian jails, saying they were the “same jails that Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru and other leaders” had been kept in during British rule.

Asked about the conversation, British and Indian officials said the Mallya case is now entirely within the purview of British courts.

“There is little Ms. May, or the British Home Office can do in the case, and the Crown Prosecution Service has been commended for putting together what is considered to be a strong case for Mr. Mallya’s extradition,” an official, who asked not to be named, told The Hindu. The next hearing in the Mallya case is expected on July 11, after which the court may issue a decision date.

More requests

During the talks, India is also expected to enquire about progress in other extradition requests, including the cases of IPL owner Lalit Modi and diamond merchant Nirav Modi, now believed to have taken refuge in the U.K., as well as Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) cases, where India awaits responses to queries on Khalistani groups including the Babbar Khalsa operating in the U.K.

The other contentious issue likely to occupy centre-stage at the talks is the subject of return of undocumented Indian immigrants in the U.K.

The original agreement, which was inked as an MoU by Minister of State Kiren Rijiju in London in January, had to be shelved at the last minute on the eve of Prime Minister Modi’s visit in April, after the Cabinet decided to review its terms.

According to officials, the agreement’s stipulation that undocumented immigrants would be returned in a “70-day” timeline was “unrealistic and unachievable”, and India preferred not to sign the agreement after the May-Modi meeting, causing some confusion at the time, as it was the key agreement expected to be completed.

“The agreement paves the way for a quicker and more efficient process for documenting and returning Indian nationals who are in the U.K. illegally. We look forward to further discussions with the government of India on this MoU and hope that it will be ratified and implemented soon,” said a British Home Office statement on Tuesday.

Officials in London and New Delhi said that India is yet to give its objections to the agreement in writing.

The Home Affairs dialogue, which was first held in May 2017, has also run into trouble this year because of all the changes within the British Home Office in recent weeks, including key officials in charge of dealing with issues with India.

In April, Home Secretary Amber Rudd was sacked after it emerged that she had misled a parliamentary committee over the deportation of Caribbean immigrants.

Permanent Undersecretary Patsy Wilkinson, who will lead the British delegation to Delhi on Wednesday, will leave her post in June.

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