Tag Archive | Kerala

Ex-Hostage’s Wife Wants Laws Against Piracy Business ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                       July 6, 2011

 

Ex-Hostage’s Wife Wants Laws Against Piracy Business !

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Indian authorities were urged today to enact clear laws– as well as enforce them– to regulate merchant seafaring, including hiring of sailors and allowing or requiring armed guard to protect vessels against pirates.

Gulf of Aden

Gulf of Aden (Photo: Wikipedia)

”Otherwise this piracy business will go on thriving,” Sampa Arya, whose husband Sandeep Arya was among Indian sailors aboard merchant vessel Suez released after a reported US$2.1 million payoff to Somali pirates, told journalists.

The racket has grown 177 per cent in just one last year, Mrs Arya claimed, drawing presumably on internet data.

She was accompanied by relatives of six Indian sailors in the captivity of Somali pirates aboard another merchant vessel called Iceberg.

The seamen captive aboard MV Iceberg: Jaswinder Singh of Haryana, Dhiraj Tiwari, Ganesh Mohite and Swapnil Jadhav of Maharashtra, Santosh Yadav of Uttar Pradesh and Shah Ji Kumar Purshotanam of Kerala.

Former Subedar Major Purshotam Tiwari said his son and five others from India were hostage for the past 16 months. He had sought the help of the Shipping, External Affairs, Home Affairs and Defence Ministries as well as the Chief Ministers of Maharashtra and Bihar. He had even drawn the attention of Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pratibha Patil, all without much avail.

Mrs Arya criticised what she suggested was a ”passive” government approach to the issue of sailors taken hostage for ransom.

The reported US$2.1 million came from MV Suez owner Abdul M Mathar of Egypt and a welfare trust run by former Pakistani Human Rights Minister Ansar Burney who also helped negotiate.

”It was with Ansar Burney’s help that we managed to negotiate with the pirates,” an Indian online outlet quoted Mathar as saying.

Experts say Somalis have been targeting mostly ships flying Flags of Convenience, which typically have budget constraints, are ill-equipped, and thus easier to overwhelm.

Merchant ship owners often register their vessels in a foreign sovereign State to reduce operating costs and avoid regulations in force in their own countries.

English: GULF OF ADEN (March 22, 2009) The Amp...

Counter piracy effort – Amphibious assault ship USS Boxer and aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt transit the Gulf of Aden (Photo: Wikipedia)

The term Flag of Convenience in use over half a century pertains to the civil ensign a ship flies to indicate its country of registration under the laws of which it operates.

The idea caught on and by the late 1960s Liberia surpassed Britain as the world’s largest shipping register.

More than a dozen States currently operating ‘open registries’ are reported to have sub-standard regulations.

More than half of the world’s merchant ships are registered under Flags of Convenience, with Panamanian, Liberian and Marshallese registries accounting for almost 40 per cent of the world fleet in deadweight tonnage.

A key criticism of the system is it lets shipowners be legally anonymous and difficult to prosecute in civil and criminal actions.

Such ships are also alleged to be engaged in crime ranging from illegal fishing to terrorism, offer substandard wages and working conditions and targeted for special enforcement by countries they visit.

But given the level of unemployment and state of regulation in developing countries such as India finding sailors is hardly a problem.

Complicating the situation over the past half a dozen years has been the Gulf of Aden, where a war-torn Somalia, without a functioning government since 1991, has turned into a hotbed of piracy.

Article 101 of Law of the Sea convention 1982 defines piracy as any illegal act of violence or detention or depredation committed for private ends by the crew or passengers of a private ship on the high seas against another ship or persons or property on board such ship.

But experts say it does not cover all cases of piracy.

”The Somali situation does not seem to strictly qualify as piracy under the Law of the Sea convention 1982,” says former additional director general of Shipping and nautical adviser J S Gill, adding that the wording ”may hamper charging a person as a pirate.”

A former chairman of the Delhi branch of the Company of Master Mariners of India, Capt Gill sees piracy as an exigency that ought to be linked to insurance, since it is underwriters who must eventually make good any losses to vessels or cargo.

Mariners interviewed say Somali activity has spawned a whole new mostly-Western industry for insuring vessels at risk with ever-increasing premiums.

That and other factors such as the data intelligence Somalis seem to possess or lawyers quick to rise to their defence on arrest suggest a new dimension– of an ‘organised under-world.’

Far from being sea pirates hunting for victims, they sometimes seem well-informed about their potential targets to the point of knowing for instance the cargo on board and the exact number of hands a vessel set out with, seafarers say.

Capt Gill who was present at the news conference said sailors in such captivity were often found to have taken employment through unlicensed agents.

”While the government may not be strictlly legally responsible for their employment they deserve basic humanitarian assistance as any citizen working abroad.

”Many victims or relatives,” Capt Gill said, ”do not know that the Director General, Shipping is statutorily entrusted to look out for Indian seamen in distress, irrespective of the source of their appointment, and must be persisted with.

”I believe the DG, Shipping and the MEA regularly press Embassies of the Flag States of the pirated ships.”

Mrs Arya stressed setting up a central agency to regulate seamen’s recruitment so as to help Indian aspirants steer clear of ships flying flags of convenience.

Experts say India has Shipping Masters at various ports supervising employment of merchant seamen and officers, but the system has eroded over the decades to a point that many seamen now find work without referring to it.

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Drawing Line Between Trial And Punishment ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                          March 25, 2011

M. Veerappa Moila

M. Veerappa Moily (Photo: Nestlé)

Drawing Line Between Trial And Punishment !

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – More than 300,000 under-trials were let out of custody after a special drive begun early last year but with new arrivals daily the number in prisons remains almost what it was– more than 200,000.

”Imagine the plight in absence of such an effort,” was how a senior government official responded when asked about the impact of the special drive, which, he pointed out, has been extended.

Article 21 of the Constitution lays down that ”No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”

A statistic to bear in mind: roughly two out of every three prisoners in India are under-trials– only one is a convict serving sentence.

Doing Time, Doing Vipassana

Guilty or Innocent (Photo: publik16)

That, critics say, is a telling reflection of a justice system ostensibly committed to treating an accused as innocent until proven guilty.

For instance, 162 of 543 Members elected to Parliament in 2009 faced criminal charges as against 128 in 2004. Correspondingly, 76 and 58 of them faced serious charges.

Of 813 legislative assembly members in Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, which go to the polls next month, 204 faced criminal charges, 83 of them serious charges.

Serious crime cases include those involving murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, robbery and extortion.

The special drive was an initiative by Law and Justice Minister M Veerappa Moily to decongest prisons.

”We want to dispose of as many as two-thirds of the under-trial cases by July 31,” Dr Moily told journalists on Republic Day eve 14 months ago. ”The mission begins January 26.”

The exercise involved expediting legal process for some 200,000 under-trials as part of a National Mission for Delivery of Justice and Legal Reforms.

In a jurisprudence known to let even those accused of serious crimes get bail or get elected to legislatures, many under-trials are believed to spend longer in jail than their alleged petty crimes warrant.

By law anyone arrested has a right to be informed of any charges he or she faces, consult a lawyer of his or her choice and to be produced before the nearest magistrate within 24 hours of arrest.

Lawyers say that without legal aid, those who cannot afford bail inevitably suffer prolonged incarceration during the pendency of investigation by police and trial by a court.

Experts say they languish simply because they are illiterate, do not know their rights or charges they face, and cannot afford lawyers– although Rs 50 crores is spent annually on legal aid.

According to a National Human Rights Commission consultant, India’s prison capacity in December 2008 was 293,144 inmates, against which 386,791 inmates were actually in prison– 264,502 of them under-trials and 122,289, convicts.

While authorities have been acquiescing in the miscarriage of justice, the victims’ plight has, from time to time, evoked concern at home and abroad with critics assailing India’s tortuously slow courts.

India is bound by several international human rights conventions and for decades the government as well as courts have been aware of the violations.

An early official reference to the plight of under-trial prisoners came in the findings of K F Rustamji, a National Police Commission member, 32 years ago.

He saw under-trials as ”dumb, simple persons, caught in the web of the law, unable to comprehend as to what has happened, what the charge against them is, or why they have been sent to jail,” and prisons as a system ”slowly grinding thousands of people into dust.”

Indeed, the first public interest litigation– Hussainara Khatoon & Ors vs Home Secretary, State Of Bihar… 1979– brought to light how undertrial prisoners had been in jail longer than if they had been charged, tried, convicted and given maximum punishment.

Supreme Court lawyers recall a September 1977 judgement by Justice V R Krishna Iyer who held that ”the basic rule may perhaps be tersely put as bail, not jail.”

Among exceptions he spelt out ”are circumstances suggestive of fleeing from justice or thwarting the course of justice or creating other troubles in the shape of repeating offences or intimidating witnesses and the like.”

”It made clear that incarceration in the name of judicial custody and protracted or delayed trial is itself criminal as it hits at the very base of Article 21,” says advocate Ravi Prakash Gupta.

Eight years ago, National Democratic Alliance Law Minister Jana Krishnamurthy drew attention to the plight of more than 200,000 under-trials.

”It’s a shame,” he said, that in independent India men and women have to await their day in court for over ten years.

The yearly cost to public exchequer for under-trials upkeep was then estimated at Rs 4.6 crore.

Although under-trials’ guilt is yet to be proven, they remain in prison almost indefinitely.

Experts say unlike convicts, found guilty, they are not even entitled to such basics as uniforms, literacy lessons or work.

NHRC consultant Lakshmidhar Mishra says children and juveniles are worse off inasmuch as they are put up in regular jails with hardened criminals contrary to law for lodging them in police lockups or observation homes, which are neither adequate in number nor adequately equipped.

There was no let-up until about a year ago, when a move to cut two thirds of under-trial cases was announced by Dr Moily of the United Progressive Alliance.

Addressing lawyers on November 26, 2009, marked as Law Day, the Minister regretted the justice system’s failure to give every citizen equal protection of law.

”A necessary corollary to the guarantee of the rule of law is Article 14 of the Constitution,” Dr Moily reminded.

Article 14: The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.

”Unfortunately,” he admitted that ”justice delivery system in its working in India has not been able to guarantee this protection to every citizen– man, woman and child.”

The government asked High Courts to identify under-trials not involved in heinous crimes or preventive detention so that their cases may be put on a fast track to expedite pressing cases.

The Indian Constitution guarantees speedy trial. But the commodity is routinely in short supply, with litigation often taking years, even decades.

Indian courts have close to 31 million cases pending, a factor that discourages justice seekers at home, investors from abroad, and has even judges advocating alternative ways of resolving disputes.

Hope may be hard to entertain given hundreds of High Court judgeships and thousands of lower judicial posts perennially vacant and inconsistent sentencing practices across India undermining the deterrent value of law.

Government figures show that there were 213,739 under-trials in prison as the drive got underway.

Over the next six months or so, only 43,504 were convicted and 50,282 discharged.

As many as 309,728 under-trials were released after having been kept in jails for unspecified periods.

About the same time, 399,115 new under-trials arrived in prisons across India, to wait for their day in the court.

Government data indicate that of 612,854 under-trials in prison for unspecified periods– ranging from a day to possibly several years– merely 7.09 per cent were actually convicted in those six months or so.

The figures made available do not, for instance, specify how long individuals spent in jail on what sort of charges before they were convicted, discharged or released.

Nor has there been a mention of compensating any who might have been jailed or held without basis.

Any compensation awarded by human rights or other authorities is discretionary, depending on how a given judge feels at the moment– hardly fair.

No compensation is mandated by the Indian Constitution or statutes for wrongful confinement.

In a telephone interview with United News of India special correspondent Mukesh Jhangiani, Dr Mishra called it ”a significant omission,” and agreed that a remedial legislation is needed.

But given the pace of legislation in India, remedies are neither swift nor easy.

The figures indicating that the number of under-trials in prison at the end of the drive was 212,454– just 1,285 less than at the outset– do not necessarily reflect a nationwide trend.

In 16 out of 27 States or Union territories for which the Justice Department has received figures, the numbers actually went up.

West Bengal led in this increase with 14,238 under-trials put into prisons while 9,337 were released, an increase of 4,901 under-trials in prison.

It was followed by Orissa, with an increase of 4,305, Rajasthan, 3071, Haryana, 1,737, Jharkhand, 1,726, Bihar, 1,550, Chhattisgarh, 1,516, Gujarat, 1,086, and Assam, 1,000.

Smaller increases were reported by Andhra Pradesh, 678, Punjab, 677, Kerala, 652, Manipur, 238, Tripura, 118, Himachal Pradesh, 107, Goa, 106, Nagaland, 69, and Arunachal Pradesh, 47.

One State which reported the highest decline was Uttar Pradesh which released 77,205 under-trials while putting in jail 55,287, an actual decrease of 21,918.

It was followed by Madhya Pradesh, where the number of under-trials in prison declined by 748, Karnataka, 643, Uttarakhand, 569, New Delhi, 356, Maharashtra, 257, Mizoram, 156, Meghalaya, 112, Sikkim, 58, Chandigarh, 11, and Daman and Diu, 1.

The Department had no figures immediately from Tamil Nadu, Jammu and Kashmir, Andaman and Nicobar, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Lakshadweep and Puducherry.

The programme originally scheduled to end on July 31, ”is continuing,” Dr Moily told journalists a few weeks ago.

From citizens’ perspective locking up innocent, law-abiding individuals is as undesirable and indeed repugnant as letting crooks and lawbreakers roam free or shape laws or societies.

UNI MJ NK 1749

Holding Sailors To Ransom ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                              March 10, 2011

English: Map showing the location of the Gulf ...

Gulf of Aden located between Yemen and Somalia. Nearby bodies of water include the Indian Ocean, Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and the Bab-el-Mandeb strait (Photo: Wikipedia)

Holding Sailors To Ransom !

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Two years after India’s Supreme Court questioned government handling of high sea piracy involving Indian lives, protesters again drew attention this evening to the plight of seamen held hostage by Somalis in the Gulf of Aden.

”Kuchh nahin! Kuchh nahin! (nothing! nothing!),” was how Sampa Arya, wife of an Indian hostage described Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s response to her pleadings to intervene in the situation.

An Egyptian cargo ship, Suez, was seized by pirates in the Gulf of Aden on August 2, 2010 despite barbed wire and fire hoses, not to mention three anti-piracy warships cruising within 40 miles.

The Panamanian-flagged ship with a crew of 24– six of them Indian– was eastbound towards the Suez Canal.

Wife of third officer Ravinder Singh Gulia, Mrs Arya broke down in a telephone interview when she was asked about any assurance she received from Dr Singh.

Sobbingly, she spoke of tortures inflicted on her husband and other hostages. ”They hit him on the knees. It is paralysing. He is not allowed even basics.”

Relatives and friends assembled at Jantar Mantar in the evening for a vigil discussed the passing deadline. The captors have demanded $4 million for release of the Indian hostages, they said.

”The deadline for Suez is over today. We are worried,” said second officer Akash Verma, adding with a touch of urgency that ”a solution must be found.”

Their key concern: the Indian authorities put pressure on the Egyptian owners of the cargo ship to pay up and free the hostages.

Barely a mile away, Parliament was told 49 ships were hijacked from international waters off the Indian Ocean in 2010 and that 38 Indian crew were still captive aboard four ships.

Answering Congress member from Kerala P J Kurien, Shipping Minister G K Vasan recited such steps as deploying naval ships, alerting other forces in the region and waging a multilateral campaign.

Three other ships Vasan listed: Iceberg-1 hijacked on March 29, 2010 with six Indian crew, Rak Afrikana, hijacked on April 11, 2010, with 11 Indian crew, and Asphalt Venture hijacked on September 29, 2010 with 15 Indian crew.

Somali acts have threatened international shipping over the past several years but experts say efforts to counter the sea brigands appear to suffer in more ways than one.

”The Somali situation does not seem to strictly qualify as piracy under the Law of the Sea convention 1982,” says former Additional Director General of Shipping and Nautical Adviser J S Gill, adding that the wording ”may hamper charging a person as a pirate.”

Mariners say Somali activity has spawned a whole new mostly-Western industry for insuring vessels at risk with ever-increasing premiums.

That and other factors such as the data intelligence Somalis seem to possess or lawyers quick to rise to their defence on arrest suggest a new dimension– of an ‘organised under-world.’

Far from being sea pirates hunting for victims, they sometimes seem well-informed about their potential targets to the point of knowing for instance the cargo on board and the exact number of hands a vessel set out with, seafarers say.

Seema Goyal, the wife of a former hostage, suggested the need to sanitise the Gulf of Aden– a suggestion echoed by several officers.

Captains I Solanki, T K Dhingra, P Sarin, P K Mittal and I Kharbanda stressed a cordon to ensure that brigands cannot come out to attack.

UNI MJ PS 0019