Opening the doors for the National Investigation Agency to tone down charges against the two Italian marines accused of killing two Kerala fishermen, the home ministry has amended the order transferring the case to the anti-terrorism agency.
Minister of state for home affairs RPN Singh told the Lok Sabha this week that the home ministry order transferring the case on 1 April had been “further revised on 15 April”.
Sources told HT that the home ministry has invoked the Supreme Court directions to hand over the case in the 15 April order rather than rely on provisions of the National Investigation Agency Act.
This means that the NIA will be free to drop charges under Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against Safety of Maritime Navigation Act 2002 which prescribes death penalty for causing death.
It was on the strength of this revised order that Attorney General GE Vahanvati argued in the Supreme Court on 16 April – a day after the changes were made – that the NIA was not restricted under the NIA Act.
The CBI is extremely overburdened and the government chose the NIA as an institution to probe the case,” Vahanvati said. The NIA – unlike the CBI which is technically autonomous – is firmly under the Home Ministry and works closely with the security establishment.
But the NIA can only investigate stipulated terror-related offences under the law that set up the agency in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.
There were concerns that NIA would not have the jurisdiction to pursue the Italian marine case unless it invokes the tough maritime law at the time of filing the chargesheet that only prescribes death penalty. It was a prospect that had the Italian government clearly on tenterhooks.
Security sources suggested the decision not to invoke the stringent law appeared to have been taken by the government for the NIA.