Supreme Court amused by Centre’s zeal in Italian marines case
The Supreme Court on Friday remarked it expects the central government to act with the same speed in other cases too when it noted the government’s zeal to have all proceedings in India closed against the Italian marines who killed two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala in 2012.
“We will like it if you act with the same speed in other matters too. Here, (in this case) you are asking for three days. Normally, you ask at least for two weeks or four weeks’ time,” a bench led by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde told solicitor general Tushar Mehta, who represented the Centre.
The bench, which included justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, made the comment after the S-G asked for “an earliest possible date” to decide the Centre’s plea for closure of proceedings against the two marines before the top court and a criminal trial pending before a special court in Delhi.
On being informed that the compensation of ₹10 crore as agreed upon by the Italian government was yet to be disbursed to the families of the slain fishermen and the injured boat owner, the top court asked Italy to deposit the money with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
The bench then added that the MEA will subsequently deposit the compensation in the Supreme Court for releasing it to the victims. While the bench wanted to give the Centre a week to deposit this amount, Mehta asked for a shorter date, saying the MEA will do it within three days of receiving the money and then the matter could be heard immediately after a week or 10 days.
The promptness of the government amused the CJI, who told Mehta that he would wish to see the same speed in other cases as well. The S-G responded: “This also depends on the ministry you are dealing with.” The bench then fixed the matter for hearing next on April 19.
During the proceedings on Friday, senior advocate Jaideep Gupta, appearing for the Kerala government, informed the bench that the families of the victims have accepted the quantum of compensation. The families of the two deceased fishermen have agreed to a compensation of ₹4 crore each in addition to the ₹2 crore already paid by the Italian government. The injured owner of the boat had also consented to receiving damages of ₹2 crore, said Gupta.
Advocates A Karthik and Unni Krishnan appeared for the victims’ families and apprised the bench that they were yet to receive the damages.
To this, the bench said: “We are going to ask them to deposit the money in this court. Only then it can be closed. Let the amount come here and then we will disburse it.”
During a hearing in August 2020, this bench had said that it will close the proceedings only after the families of the victims are heard and given “adequate” compensation, after it noted that the victims’ families were not parties to the case before the Supreme Court.
The court was dealing with an application of the Centre filed in July 2020 wherein it said that all proceedings in India against two marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, should be closed since the Union government has accepted the May 2020 decision of the international arbitral tribunal. The tribunal ruled that the marines enjoyed immunity and hence only Italy could try them whereas India was entitled to compensation.
After the government was asked to make victims’ families parties to the plea, a compliance affidavit was filed by the Centre in January this year, stating that the Italian government has offered to pay a total of ₹10 crore in damages, which was acceptable to the families as well the Kerala government.
Subsequently, the S-G on Monday requested for an urgent hearing of the Centre’s plea and the matter was listed on Friday.
The main case pending before the Supreme Court is an appeal filed by the marines against a May 2012 judgment of the Kerala high court, which held that Kerala had jurisdiction to try them. The marines and the Italian government moved an appeal before the top court, which shifted the trial to a special court Delhi in 2013 where it went on till the Supreme Court stayed it in 2015 after taking note of proceedings pending before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at the Hague, Netherlands. In the meantime, the marines were allowed to go back home on a personal undertaking by the Italian ambassador that they would come back as and when required.