The Centre is in a catch-22 situation.
The Supreme Court has categorically said Italian ambassador Daniele Mancini (in pic) had waived his diplomatic immunity by giving an undertaking that the the Italian marines facing trial in India for shooting two fishermen from Kerala will return after casting their ballots at home.
This has left the central government in a fix as it walks a tightrope between diplomacy, as mandated under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961, and its obligation to the apex court.
On Monday, a Supreme Court bench, headed by chief justice Altamas Kabir, made no bones about saying Mancini no longer has immunity and he could not be trusted again. "You (Mancini) went to Italy after giving an undertaking. We never expected and we never believed that the Italian ambassador will renege [on his assurance] like this."
When advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Mancini and Italy, argued for diplomatic immunity for the Italian envoy under the Vienna Convention, the court thundered, "We don't go by anything. He has given the undertaking. We are not so naïve. We don't accept his statement. We don't believe his statement. He has lost [our] trust." Taking exception to Mancini's claim to immunity, the SC said, "...we don't think he has any immunity. He has no immunity. What do you think of our judicial system?"
It then extended its March 14 order on restraining Mancini from leaving the country till April 2, the next date of the Italian marines' case hearing.
Before passing this order, the bench pointed out that the four-week period for which the marines were allowed to leave has not yet lapsed and that they have time to return.
"We respected the undertaking (given by the ambassador) and we allowed them (marines) to go for four weeks, which will end on March 22. There is still time for them to come. Strictly speaking, they have not yet violated our order," it added, as it gave directions to all authorities concerned to take the necessary measures to follow its ruling to the tee.
The central government has been guarded in its response to the Supreme Court's directions and is keeping its cards close to its chest. The ministry of external affairs (MEA) said any decision vis-a-vis its relations with Italy will be taken only after much deliberations. It also said India is conscious of its obligations under the Vienna Convention, but it is also bound by directions of its apex court, which has been conveyed to Italy.
On the latest note verbale from Italy, which states that no Indian authority will restrict Mancini's freedom of movement, an MEA spokesperson said, "We did receive it from the ministry of foreign affairs of Italy on March 15 through our mission in Rome and that note verbale drew our attention to the provisions of the Vienna Convention regarding [immunity to] diplomatic agents."
Asked to validate reports of Mancini going to Nepal, as he is also accredited as the Italian ambassador to Nepal, the spokesperson said the MEA does not have any information on his plans.
Sources, however, say the ministry believes that Italy will not further escalate the standoff between the two countries by sending Mancini to Nepal. "India is not in a hurry to take a decision on its relations with Italy due to the same reason — that it does not want to intensify the standoff. India will take a decision only when Mancini tries to leave the country," a source said.
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The Centre is in a catch-22 situation.
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