December 21, 2022
Jawhar Sircar’s speech in the Rajya Sabha on 21.12.22 on The Maritime Anti-Piracy Bill, 2022
Thank you, Sir, for giving me this opportunity to speak on this very important Bill. It is not as routine a passing, as we think. The maritime piracy has reached a very high proportion. And, we are all aware, there are two very startling cases concerning India – one, off the coast of Nigeria and the other off the coast of Somalia. Somalia, as a rouge State, keeps threatening and keeps threatening. Therefore, the Bill is timely, in fact, could have been perhaps done even earlier. It is in execution of our international agreement. But, having said that, I have only a few queries to the hon. Minister. Hon. Minister, as you know, is my former colleague. It is my honour to speak after Mr. Javadekar, my ex-Minister. I have also listened to my colleague on the other side, Mr. Vivek. Now, having said that, is the applicability only to Indian ships? Is it applicable only to Indian ships? In other words, we need to be clear that if an Indian merchant hires another ship, let us say, Norwegian ship and that is subjected to high seas piracy, would this Act be applicable because Indian goods of high value are involved there? So, that is my first query. The Minister is free to clarify it. The Bill has been well-drafted. But, Clause 2(I)(a), the opening ball, if I may put it like this, says that only authorized persons can execute the Act. And, the ‘authorized person’ has rather been described liberally. But, at the end its meaning, it means ‘Sarkar’. It means, either a naval ship or a Coast Guard ship has to take action or a Government ship of any type. My humble submission to you, Sir, is that when piracy takes place, it does not look at the flag of the ship. It, perhaps, does not look at it. So, if it is a private ship, which does not have the authority, would that private ship, which is otherwise capable, be able to execute the honour of India? That’s all. There is a question of aircraft coming in 2(j). Aircraft is now an accompaniment of many forms of transport, maybe, helicopters are also a part of it. But, the words ‘other aircraft’ attracted my attention. I hope, it is not stretched like a rubber band to cover everything, in fact, air piracy or even other air offences under this one because we need a separate Bill for that one. We are clear that air offences take place. Now, ‘Stateless Persons’ has been defined. Thank you very much. This has been a crying need. But, this could be extended to other Acts as well because ‘Stateless Persons’ are not only subject to anti-piracy Bill, it is subject to many other Acts. We need to get a little more firm about it. In Clause 2(2), you have talked about extending IPC. It is a welcome decision. I really wonder how we have been carrying on so long without extending the Indian Penal Code to territorial waters, our economic zones, our continental shelf, whatever we claim. This Bill represents a desire of the Government and also the people to extend their arm as long as possible. But the extension of the arm is possible only when you have muscles that go with the arm. In other words, we need an executing agency like the US Navy SEALs, a commando force, that is capable of executing it; otherwise, it remains a paper Act. That part, perhaps, is not his domain, but the Minister could always enlighten us as to what the executing arm is. Supposing an Indian ship has been caught off Aden, can we send our force from here, and, legitimately, under this Act, claim that we have acted in due honour of the law of India? The question that comes to me and I am sure that the experienced Minister would know my concern, which is what we call the theory of ‘Hot Pursuit.’ ‘Hot Pursuit’ is an American practice of getting into anyone’s territory at any point of time and saying “I was pursuing the criminal and I was in a hot pursuit. Therefore, I violated your territorial sovereignty to get at my people.” And, because America is America, it has got away with it. They got away with it. Would we also like to enunciate the crux of the principle of ‘Hot Pursuit’, because if India has to assert itself, and especially, in the light of a neighbour that does not believe in international laws or international peace, perhaps, the theory of ‘Hot Pursuit’ could be evinced and could be internalised? What about rogue States? When we talk of recurring problems of Somalia, we all know Somalia is a rogue State. It does not come under the purview of the Act, but it, certainly, comes under one of the worries of the Ministry of External Affairs. What about rogue States? What is our action about rogue States? Coming to the question of jurisdiction of who will decide, supposing we catch a pirate ship, a pirate vessel and drag it to Indian waters, we shall all be there to clap, if you can do it! We have not been able to do it so far. But, suppose you can do it, the question of jurisdiction is given as a port of disembarkation. This could be, perhaps, streamlined a bit. There will be only one dedicated court for it. Mr. Tankha has also raised this issue. The next one is very worrisome, especially under this system of governance. A lot of presumptive evidence is floating around for a very good purpose. But, having seen the case of Father Stanley, that has happened, where it has been openly said in the international domain that false evidence has been planted into that old man’s computer before he died, and there has been no denial from the Government side; therefore, I assume that much of what has been said on Father Stanley is true. When planting of evidence takes place by very organised people, what do you do? I am not accusing the Government in this case of planting evidence in the anti-piracy. All I am saying is, if you leave out wide balls, don’t blame any one for sixes. So, be tight on that and let us go through what we call the rule of law. Lastly, I would request the hon. Minister to give us a picture of what is going on. What are the statistics? How many Indians have been captured? How many Indians have lost their lives? How many Indians have been rescued? How many Indian ships have been rescued? What value of goods have been brought in? How serious is the problem as compared to, let us say, a decade ago? That is all. With these words, Sir, I would request you to convey my feelings and my queries to the hon. Minister. Thank you, Sir. Otherwise, it is a very good Bill.