KERALA AT WAR WITH CENTRE ON MARINES
State Congress is angry about the UPA Government’s changing stand on Italians accused of murder
Suspicion is growing in Kerala that the Centre wants to bail out the two Italian marines arrested for shooting dead two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast on February 15. This after Additional Solicitor General ( ASG) Harin Rawal told the Supreme Court on April 20 that India had no jurisdiction to detain the marines. The Government later replaced Rawal after a strong protest by the Congress in Kerala, particularly Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. The
ASG reportedly said the stance was his personal view and not that of the Government. The Centre will now be represented by Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati in the case when it is taken up on April 30. The marines have been lodged in Central Prison, Trivandrum since February 20.
Rawal told the apex court that India had no jurisdiction to detain
Enrica Lexie as the incident occurred while the ship was 20.5 nautical miles away from the Indian coastline, in effect 8.5 nautical miles off the territorial waters of India. This is the position of the Italian government as well, opposed by both the Central and state governments until now. The owners of the ship have approached the court to permit the ship
POLITICAL PARTIES AND FISHERMEN GROUPS BELIEVE THE GOVERNMENTIS FAVOURING THE ITALIANS. THEY POINT TO SUBMISSIONS MADE IN THE HIGH COURT.
to leave. This has been opposed by the state police.
The ruling UDF in Kerala is in a fix over the Centre’s changing stand. Chandy’s angry protest to Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid against the ASG’S statement led to Rawal being replaced. “I am assured the Central Government will do nothing to jeopardise the interests of Kerala or the families of the killed fishermen,” he told reporters on April 21.
Families of the two fishermen have accepted the compensation of Rs 1 crore each offered by the Italian government as out-of-court settlement. On April 20, they conveyed to the Kerala High Court their willingness to withdraw the cases. The owner of the fishing boat will get Rs 18 lakh, according to the agreement signed by the fishermen and the Italian consul general. The Italian government has appealed in the Supreme Court to quash the FIR filed against the Italian marines.
Political parties and fishermen groups in Kerala believe the Centre is favouring the Italians. They point to the submissions made in the high court earlier by Directors-general of Shipping and Mercantile Marine Departments, both under the Central Government, saying they had no objections to freeing the ship, now anchored in Kochi. “It is clearly the Central Government’s agenda to let them go,” says an angry Charles George, secretary, Fishermen Coordination Committee.
Legal experts in Kerala have expressed similar views. “Though there are strong legal provisions to prosecute the Italians, there is a clear game plan to let the Italians escape,” says V.S. Syam Kumar, a teacher at the National University for Advanced Legal Studies, Kochi. According to Kumar, provisions of the Indian Penal Code as well as two international statutes—admirality Offences (Colonial) Act of 1849 and Suppression of Unlawful Act, 2002— which are in force in India, support the country’s right to prosecute the marines. The Supreme Court bench of Justices R.M. Lodha and H.L. Gokhale, who were hearing the case, said after Rawal’s submission, “We do not expect such a stand from the Central Government when citizens of this country have been killed.”
The Opposition Left Democratic Front blames it on Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s Italian roots. “We suspect Sonia Gandhi’s Italian connections are behind the continued attempts by the Centre to let off the Italians,” says CPI(M) leader V.S. Achuthanandan.
MARINES MASSIMILIANO LATORRE (CENTRE), SALVATORE GIRONE (RIGHT) IN TRIVANDRUM
KOLLAM MPN. PEETHAMBARAKURUP CONSOLES THE VICTIMS’FAMILIES AND RELATIVES