Giving in to sustained pressure from the Ministry of External Affairs and following the legal advice given by Attorney General Goolam E Vahanati, the Ministry of Home Affairs Friday reversed its stand on the issue of seeking death penalty for two Italian marines allegedly involved in gunning down two unarmed Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast in 2012.
The MHA revoked the clause in the stringent anti-piracy laws, which attracts the death penalty, in the chargesheet against the two marines. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is probing the case, will now file its charge-sheet under Suppression of Unlawful Acts against Safety of Maritime Navigation Act (SUA), 2002 and the Indian Penal code but will not invoke Section 3 (1)(g)(i) of the SUA, which carries the death penalty. When NIA initially booked the two marines under this section of SUA, Italy objected to it.
Though the two marines, Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre, would continue to be charged under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, which also attracts the death penalty, the possibility of them getting the death sentence is very low since their action may not fall in the rarest of rare category.
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Incidentally, at a meeting taken by Vahanvati on February 4, the MHA had strongly opposed any move to completely revoke the charges under SUA. Even the note sent by Vahanvati to the MHA talks of the “concern of the MHA with regard to complete deletion of SUA”.
The MHA had some time back given prosecution sanction to NIA under the stringent law that prescribes the death penalty, while the MEA has been insisting on toning down of the charges on the plea that it could have serious effect on India’s relations with Italy and other European Union nations.
While the MEA has been pointing to the sovereign assurance given by the External Affairs Minister that the marines would not be given death sentence, the MHA has been of the view that there was no need to give such an assurance.
The NIA had also expressed its reservation to the assurance given by the External Affairs Minister, saying that neither the NIA nor MHA was consulted before giving such an assurance. During the high meeting the only way out out of the logjam was to remove the clause that provides for the death sentence. It was after this decision that MHA on Friday issued orders giving sanction to NIA under all the other sections but 3 (1) (g) (i), both under the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against SUA and the IPC.