In a U-turn in the Kerala fishermen killing case, the Union home ministry on Friday asked the National Investigation Agency to dilute the charges against the two accused Italian marines from murder to violence, thus sparing them from the possibility of getting death penalty.
Revising its earlier decision, the home ministry gave sanction to the NIA to prosecute the Italian marines under the new provision of the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against Safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act.
The provision [3.1.(a)] says whoever unlawfully and intentionally commits an act of violence against a person on board a fixed platform or a ship which is likely to endanger the safety of the fixed platform or, as the case may be, safe navigation of the ship shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to fine.
Earlier, the home ministry had sanctioned this case under Section 3 (G) (i) of SUA, which says anyone causing death to any person shall be punished with death.
The decision, sources said, will be conveyed to the Supreme Court on Monday as promised by the government.
The decision is expected to be a huge relief to Italian government which has been strongly opposing the decision of slapping the stringent provision, which invites death of the accused if proved guilty.
The NIA has sought sanction to prosecute the two marines -- Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone -- under the SUA.
The Marines, who were on-board Italian vessel Enrica Lexie and are now lodged in New Delhi's Italian Embassy premises, allegedly shot dead the two fishermen on February 15, 2012 off Kerala coast.
The NIA had completed its probe after questioning witnesses, including four Italian marines, through video conferencing after their refusal to come to India.
The Supreme Court had shifted the case to Delhi, saying Kerala Police have no jurisdiction over it and backed the government's decision to hand over the case to NIA.