Nineteen years after the Malta boat tragedy in which 283 youths, mostly from Punjab, lost their lives, the case remains pending in a CBI court with even the charges not being framed against the 29 accused — all travel agents — in the case.
On December 25, 1996, the youths, who were to enter Italy illegally, were transferred from a ship, the Yiohan, to a small boat that capsized in the Mediterranean near Italy.
The CBI had registered a case against 29 persons in 1997 under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Immigration Act for cheating, forgery and human trafficking. Seven of the accused died during the pendency of the case. The next hearing in the case is on January 7, 2016.
Soon after the incident, a Hoshiarpur resident and social worker Balwant Singh Khera had formed a Malta Boat Tragedy Probe Mission to bring justice to families of the victims. Khera not only took up the case in India but also went to Italy a number of times to pursue the case.
Khera, who has also made an MBT tragedy gallery in Hoshiarpur, said “While Italy courts have decided the cases and handed out punishments long back, in India the case is pending in a CBI court.”
He informed that an Italian court sentenced two Italy-based travel agents to 30 years in jail in 2008 for their involvement in the tragedy.
A few years ago, families of some victims got Rs 50,000 as ex-gratia from the Punjab government, Khera added.
Narain Singh Chitti, who lost his only son in the tragedy, said travel agents continue to play with the lives of many other gullible youths of Punjab.
Khera said he would mobilise Europe-based NRIs to raise funds for making a memorial near the spot where the tragedy happened.
Meanwhile, the MBT mission will organise a peaceful protest in Hoshiarpur on December 25 in memory of those killed and to protest the delay in justice.