NIA, probing the killing of Kerala fishermen allegedly by two Italian marines, may drop a stringent provision of law that entails only death sentence for the offence of murder.
Home ministry officials hinted that even though the National Investigation Agengy (NIA) has booked the marines under the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against Safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act, 2002, the charge may be dropped while filing the charge sheet.
Under this Act, offence of murder is punishable only with death sentence.
"NIA will not press for death sentence against the marines – Massimiliano Lattore and Salvatore Girone – as per the assurance given by India to Italy even if they are convicted of murder," an official said.
However, officials said a special provision in the five-decade-old Extradition Act will not be helpful to the marines to escape murder charge as they were neither fugitives who could be punished with a maximum of life imprisonment nor extradited by Italy where death penalty has been abolished.
They said this quoting provision under Section 34C of The Extradition Act, 1962.
"But we will honour whatever assurance has been given by India to Italy," the official said.
On March 22, after the return of the marines from Italy, external affairs minister Salman Khurshid had told Parliament that India has given an assurance to that country that the two will not face death penalty nor will they be liable for arrest if they return by the deadline set by the Supreme Court.
India had given the assurance after clarifications were sought by Italy on death penalty which was a "concern" to that country.
Khurshid had also said "...According to well-settled Indian jurisprudence, this case would not fall in the category of matters which attract death penalty, that is to say the rarest of rare cases. Therefore, there need not be any apprehension in this regard".
NIA has filed an FIR before a Special NIA court booking the marines under sections 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder), 427 (mischief) along with section 34 (common intent) of IPC and the 2002 Maritime Act. The Supreme Court had on January 18 said the marines on board 'Enrica Lexie', accused of killing the two fishermen in February last year, be shifted to Delhi and be under the 'custody' of the apex court till the Centre constitutes a special court to hold their trial.
The incident had taken place at a distance of about 20.5 nautical miles from the coastline of Kerala and, therefore, it had not occurred within the territorial waters of the coastline of Kerala state but within the Contiguous Zone over which the state police of Kerala ordinarily has no jurisdiction, the court had said.
The Italian government had a fortnight ago reversed its earlier decision not to send back to India the two marines who had gone to Italy to cast votes in elections there.
Italy had reneged on its assurance to the Supreme Court on sending back the marines but later gave in after the Indian government and the apex court took a firm stand with New Delhi warning that ties with Rome could be downgraded.