No leniency to accused in fishermen shooting

Thiruvananthapuram: Asserting that the probe in the fishermen killing case was progressing well, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy today told the assembly that no leniency would be shown to accused Italian marines as government`s priority was to ensure justice to the victims` families.

Accusing the Congress-led UDF government of failing to ensure safety of the fishing community, LDF opposition walked out of the House. They also alleged that the two arrested marines were being treated like "guests" rather than accused in a serious case.

Seeking leave for an adjournment on the issue, senior CPI(M) member P K Gurudasan said both the shooting of two fishermen by the marines of the Italian ship and death of three fishermen after their boat was hit by a ship last week exposed serious flaws in the coastal safety system.

Rejecting the opposition charge, Chandy said the state and the Centre had stood firm that the Italian marines should be tried under the Indian laws and a very strong case had been made based on "incontrovertible evidences" collected by the investigators.

Chandy said the prosecutors had rejected all the key arguments of Italy in defence of their marines. They (Italian authorities) first said the fishermen were shot at mistaking them to be pirates. Then, they objected to the trial of marines under the Indian laws arguing the incident happened outside Indian`s exclusive maritime zone.

The state had rejected these arguments making it clear from the very outset that the accused should subject themselves to Indian laws. The Centre had also stood firm by the state in the case, he said.

There would be no change from these positions and the diplomatic ties between the two countries should not come in the way of dispensing justice, Chandy said.

Hitting out at the treasury benches, Opposition Leader V S Achuthanandan said the arrested marines were put up in a guest house and treated with "five-star" facilities and food.

"Do you want them to be treated as our guests. When are they going to be considered as accused in a serious case", Achuthanandan asked before staging the walkout.

Speaker G Karthikeyan turned down the opposition demand for adjournment on the issue.

Turning the table on the opposition, Chandy said in 2008, when LDF was in power, a fisherman was killed after his boat was hit by a Chinese ship off Kannur coast.

The authorities then allowed the ship to leave Kerala coast after they were asked to deposit Rs 25 lakh as surety and no follow up action was taken in that case. But this would not be the approach of the present government which would extend all support to allow the law to take its due course, Chandy said.

Referring to last week`s incident of a ship ramming into fishermen`s boat off Alappuzha coast killing at least three of them, Chandy said the searchers have closed in on a suspected ship and it had ordered to be brought to Chennai port.

A police team from Kerala had been sent to Chennai to help the shipping authorities in their investigation in the case.

The Chief Minister also said a high-level meeting of Navy, Coast Guard and state agencies had been convened to work out effective measures for fishermen`s safety and putting in place a thorough search and rescue system.

As an immediate step, Coastal Security Home Guards would be appointed to coastal police stations to assist the police and state agencies during emergency situations.

Also, the number of coastal police stations along the state`s coastline would be increased to 18 by setting up 10 more stations.