The Central government on Friday told the Supreme Court that it has deposited with the top court Rs 10 crore paid by the republic of Italy as compensation to the families of the two Kerala fishermen who were shot dead in 2012 by two Italian marines aboard the MV Enrica Lexie ship -- an Italian flagged oil tanker -- in lieu of closure of criminal cases against the two navy personnel in India.
Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice MR Shah, after taking note the submissions made by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that compensation of Rs 10 crore has been deposited with the court for disbursement to the victims, reserved the order for June 15.
The Central government and Italy asked the bench that the court close all proceedings and formalise the aspect of disbursement in its final order.
The bench said it will pass the final order on Tuesday.
The bench was hearing an application filed by the Centre seeking to close the criminal cases against the two Italian marines in India, after accepting the compensation of Rs 10 crores offered by Italy to the victims of the 2012 firing incident, in which two Indian fishermen who were on a fishing vessel in India's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) were killed.
At the outset of the hearing, Mehta, appearing for the Centre, told the bench that it was up to the Kerala government to decide on the apportionment of the total compensation.
"We have deposited the amount. There was an award by an international tribunal, which as a nation we have accepted. The agreement is between Italy, the Government of India and Kerala," Mehta says.
The advocate appearing for the republic of Italy said that criminal proceedings pending before a Delhi court must also be dropped in terms of the award by the international arbitral award.
Mehta submitted that Kerala is saying those who didn't suffer injury but were on board the ship should also be compensated. "We don't have an objection, that can be looked into by Kerala on how the money has to be apportioned," Mehta said.
Senior advocate KN Balagopal, appearing for Kerala, contended that the victims were identified so compensation could be paid.
Mehta told the bench that it was decided by the international tribunal that criminal proceedings would be started in Italy.
Reading out the relevant portion of the tribunal's order, the solicitor general said it was said that India was precluded from exercising jurisdiction over the marines.
India was found entitled for pay of compensation for loss of life, moral harm etc suffered, Mehta, told the apex court.
The tribunal had also held that Italy will reserve the right to prosecute the marines, Mehta said, adding, "So as a corollary, the marines can't be protected here since both the Union of India and government of Kerala have accepted the Tribunal's award."
"Rs 10 crore is the compensation reached under this clause. One other clause was that India would cease its right to criminally prosecute, and Italy would prosecute them instead," Mehta said.
Advocate C Unnikrishnan, appearing for the widow of one of the deceased fishermen, said Rs 4 crores each to the two victims' families and Rs 2 crore to the boat owner had been decided upon.
To this, the bench said Rs 4 crore is not a small amount and some appropriate measures will have to be taken to ensure the money is not frittered away.
The solicitor general told the apex court that the money can be deposited in interest-bearing bank accounts for gradual withdrawal and accrual of adequate interest.
The bench then asked as to how the Rs 4 crores, to be given to the families of the deceased, is to be invested.
The Kerala government’s counsel told the apex court that the money must be released to the victims after a reasonable time. "They haven't had anything until this court intervened. There was a lot of resentment in the state after the incident. They are now satisfied, though. The state is involved in disbursement."
He added that the preliminary investigation of the heirs has been done. "The incident took place in 2012 and they have been deprived of any advantage. As far as disbursement is concerned, this amount belongs to them and for some time it may be kept in a fixed deposit but it has to be given to them," he added.
The bench replied that for some time the amount can be deposited so they may get interest on it and later the money can be given to the families.
It also suggested the money can be transferred to the Kerala high court, which can monitor the disbursement to the victims.