MHA allows NIA not to invoke law providing for death against Italian marines

NIA has been allowed to probe killing of 2 Indian fishermen in which 2 Italian marines are accused without invoking law that provides for death.

New Delhi: In a relief for Italy, the NIA has been allowed by the Home Ministry to probe the killing of two Indian fishermen in which two Italian marines are accused without invoking the law that provides for capital punishment.

Amid concerns by Italy on the possibility of death penalty being imposed on the two marines, the Ministry of Home Affairs has amended its order that transferred the case to the National Investigation Agency(NIA) allowing its probe under IPC and CrPC sections without restricting itself to the NIA Act.

The Home Ministry`s revised order came on April 15 -- 11 days before the Supreme Court order when the court said that the agency can proceed with the case.

It was on the strength of this revised order that Attorney General GE Vahanvati argued in the Supreme Court that the NIA probe was not restricted to the NIA Act, the sources said.

In effect, the order means that the NIA will be free not to invoke charges under Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against Safety of Maritime Navigation Act 2002 which prescribes capital punishment for causing death.

Government sources said today the MHA has invoked the Supreme Court directions to hand over the case in the April 15 order rather than rely on provisions of the NIA Act.

The NIA comes under the Home Ministry and works closely with the security establishment.

But the NIA can only investigate stipulated terror-related offences under the law under which the agency was set up in the aftermath of the 2008 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, keeping Italian government on tenterhooks.

The Indian government had said yesterday no question of death penalty arises.

Clarifying the latest Supreme Court order in the matter in which the apex court allowed NIA to probe the case, official sources said the order had been read out of context leading to misleading reports.

Noting that Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against Safety of Maritime Navigation Act 2002 has not been invoked, official sources said "in any case no question arises of death penalty being imposed in the circumstances of the case if the court was to return a verdict of guilty".