New Delhi: Parliament on Wednesday passed a bill which provides for the prevention of maritime piracy and stringent punishment for those convicted of such crimes. The Rajya Sabha passed the Maritime Anti-Piracy Bill 2022 by voice vote on Wednesday. The bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on Monday. Moving the bill for consideration and passage in the Rajya Sabha, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said it has provisions for the prevention of maritime piracy, will strengthen India’s maritime security and give it an effective legal instrument to combat the menace.
The bill will also enable the country to fulfil its international obligations and improve India’s standing at global forums. “Ensuring maritime security is key to safeguarding India’s security and economic wellbeing,” he said.
The minister said that between 2008 and 2011, there have been 27 maritime incidents in which 288 Indian nationals were involved. Between 2014 and 2022, there were 19 piracy cases in which 155 Indian crew members were involved and the numbers show why the country needs this bill so badly, he stated.
The bill was initially introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 9, 2019, and referred to the Standing Committee on External Affairs for examination. Jaishankar said the ministry had held several rounds of extensive inter-ministerial consultations with the departments concerned to incorporate the recommendations of the Standing Committee.
Out of 18 recommendations of the Standing Committee, 14 have been incorporated suitably in the bill, he said, adding that three recommendations were only observations to have been duly noted.
“The bill addresses the issue of the death penalty as an exceptional case and the quantum of punishment envisaged are in line with the gravity of offences,” the minister said.
In the bill, the government has added provisions for the death penalty and life imprisonment for those convicted of maritime piracy. In the absence of a specific law or a legal provision in the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure on piracy, he said, this bill would provide an effective legal instrument to combat maritime piracy.
Also, he said, it would enable India to discharge its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). “This bill will fulfil all the expectations of UNCLOS, to which India is a signatory, for cooperation and repression of piracy in high seas,” Jaishankar said.
The external affairs minister asserted that the security of “our sea lanes of communication is critical” with more than 90 per cent of India’s trade taking place by sea route and more than 80 per cent of its hydro-carbon requirements being sea-borne.
India, he said, is also one of the largest providers of seafarers in the world. He also highlighted that India has taken a lead on issues of maritime security at multilateral forums. “Passing of this bill will enhance our global credentials and standing in the comity of nations,” the minister said.
“It will strengthen our maritime security including the safety of our maritime trade routes and the well-being of Indian seafarers in international water,” Jaishankar said. Members cutting across party lines supported the bill although some of them had pointed out that a few provisions could be improved.
Supporting the bill, Congress member Vivek Tankha said India will be delighted to have this law but asked the government to look at some of the harsh provisions, including bail provisions for those arrested. Prakash Javadekar of the BJP said it was a good step that the government has accepted most of the recommendations of the Standing Committee.
Several other members, including Jawhar Sircar (TMC), N R Elango (DMK), Sasmit Patra (BJD) Amee Yajnik (Congress) and Ayodhya Rami Reddy Alla (YSRCP), supported the bill. Some of them also sought a few clarifications from the minister.
Sircar wondered if the legislation would apply to private ships. Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya of the CPI(M) called for the removal of the death penalty provision in the bill.
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Jaishankar told the House, “We will have jurisdiction on foreign ships (which would indulge in piracy).” About the members’ suggestions about having a standard operating procedure (SOP) for better enforcement, he stated that the suggestion is well taken as it would help in its enforcement.
He appreciated the members’ views that authorised persons — armed forces dealing with piracy — need to be given immunity. Jaishankar said designated courts will be set up in consultation with the Chief Justice of India. He said it is clear from the legislation that police officers will be the key person in the investigation.
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“We assume that in such cases they (police) have the competence to do that. We have not specified the rank of the (investigating) officer because we have gone by CrPC. Even a Station House Officer can file a case in such situations,” he said.
Some members raised points about protecting the interests of Indian fishermen. On this, the minister said that the Government of India is committed to protecting the interests of Indian fishermen. He stated that 19 members have spoken on the bill and each one of them has expressed support for it, which underlines how much this bill is in our national interest.
(This report has been published as part of the auto-generated syndicate wire feed. Apart from the headline, no editing has been done in the copy by ABP Live.)