The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has finally dropped the stringent anti-piracy SUA against the two Italian marines, accused of killing two Indian fishermen off Kerala coast in 2012.
After debating the issue at the topmost level once again, the Centre conveyed this to the Supreme court on Monday thus bailing out the two marines.
The NIA had earlier dropped charges under SUA's section 3(g)(i) that attracted death penalty and instead applied much lenient section 3(a) that meant maximum 10 years imprisonment for the Italians.
The Centre told the court that the contentious issue between India and Italy on slapping Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against Safety of Maritime Navigation And Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act (SUA) against the marines has been resolved as it has decided to go by opinion of the law minister, according to which provisions under the anti-piracy law are "not attracted" in this case.
Appearing before a bench headed by justice BS Chauhan, Attorney General GE Vahanvati said the government has accepted the law minister's view.
The Italian government, however, opened a new front against the Centre by questioning the jurisdiction of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to investigate the case, saying that the agency cannot probe offences under the Indian Penal Code.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Italian government, submitted, "NIA cannot investigate IPC offences. Entire probe has been done by NIA which does not have sanction of law to proceed in the case."
The Centre, however, opposed the plea and submitted that the agency can probe any case on the direction of the court.
The bench after hearing both the sides agreed to adjudicate the matter and allowed the Italian government to file an application regarding the issue of jurisdiction of NIA within a week.
This may, if the court takes cognisance, may leave the NIA red faced. The case, sources said, may go to the CBI as it the other designated federal agency besides NIA that can take up the case. The court had earlier asked the government to get the matter investigated by a federal agency.
The Centre was asked to respond a week after the filing of application by the Italian government.
The bench was hearing a petition filed by the Italian government challenging invoking of anti-terrorism law SUA, saying it is against the order of the apex court which allowed proceedings only under the Maritime Zone Act, IPC, CrPC and UNCLOS.
The joint petition, filed by Italian ambassador Daniele Mancini along with Italian marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, also sought direction to the Centre to expedite the proceedings in the case or discharge the marines.
The petition has said invoking SUA "would tantamount to the Republic of Italy being termed a terrorist state and acts of its organs, which were in repression of piracy, as being deemed as acts of terrorism, which is wholly untenable and unacceptable in the facts and circumstances of this case and in keeping with the comity of nations and international cooperation."
The case pertains to the killing of two Indian fishermen allegedly by Latorre and Girone on board ship 'Enrica Lexie' off Kerala coast on February 15, 2012. The two officers contended that they had apprehended a piracy attack. The marines were arrested on February 19, 2012.