New Delhi, Jan. 15: Salman Khurshid today joined cabinet colleague Sushil Shinde in a war of words with former home secretary R.K. Singh, blaming the ex-IAS officer for a “disastrous” decision in the Italian marines case and suggesting it fuelled the row with Rome.
Foreign minister Khurshid’s attack on Singh, who joined the BJP last month after retiring in June 2013, came days after the 1975 batch officer hurled allegations at his former boss, home minister Shinde.
Singh had alleged that Shinde had interfered in the probe into the IPL fixing scam and prevented Delhi police from questioning a businessman suspected to be close to Dawood Ibrahim.
Today, Khurshid blamed Singh for deepening the row with Italy over the two marines by handing the case over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in a special category of offences under which the death penalty must be given on conviction.
Khurshid indicated that the Centre could reverse the decision on Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, accused of killing two fishermen off the Kerala coast in February 2012 while on anti-piracy duty on an Italian vessel. The duo claimed they mistook the fishermen for pirates.
“He (Singh) is the one who decided that the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against safety of Maritime Navigation should be imposed, which gives a compulsory death sentence to (the) two marines (if convicted). They may have exceeded their duties but they were not terrorists,” Khurshid told a channel. “We could simply have had a trial and told the Italians the marines were guilty or not guilty.”
Khurshid blamed Singh for the current difficult situation in which the government was having to find a middle path where the marines do not face death. India has promised Rome the marines wouldn’t face the capital punishment.
Officials said the Centre was weighing the option of denying the NIA the mandatory sanction to initiate prosecution.
Home ministry sources, smarting from Singh’s allegations against Shinde, said the ex-officer could have chosen the CBI after the Supreme Court ruled last year that the case should be handed over to a central agency.
Keeping the NIA out would have saved the government the embarrassment and difficulty of removing charges under the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against Safety of Maritime Navigation Act (SUA) that makes the marines liable for the death penalty, the officials said.
The NIA investigates “scheduled offences”, grave crimes such as terror strikes or national security-related cases. Once an offence is dropped from the category of “scheduled offence” and sanction for prosecution denied, the case can be taken out of the NIA’s ambit.
Singh was unavailable for comment on Khurshid’s claims. He drew fire from others in the government. V. Narayanasamy, minister of state in the PMO, said Singh was “bitter” as he had expected a post-retirement sinecure and didn’t get it.