Legal angle

Print edition : March 21, 1998

ON behalf of the Indian chapter of the South Asian Labour Forum (SALF), senior advocate in the Supreme Court, R. Venkataramani, conducted a study on the legal aspects of the arrest of Indian and Pakistani fishermen who are caught crossing the maritime borders.

According to Venkataramani, fishermen who violate Pakistan's territorial waters or Exclusive Economic Zone are booked under the Maritime Zones Acts, 1975 and 1976, by that country's maritime security agencies. The Indian authorities do the same under the Maritime Zones Acts, 1976 and 1981.

In the case of both the countries, such violation is punishable by imprisonment, a hefty fine or both. Section 10 of the Indian Act of 1981 states: "(a)....where such contravention takes place in any area within the territorial waters of India, be punishable with imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or with fine not exceeding Rs. 15 lakhs or with both and (b)..... where such contravention takes place in any area within the exclusive economic zone of India, be punishable with fine not exceeding Rs. 10 lakhs."

According to advocate Venkataramani, Parts 2 and 3 of Article 73 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1983, states that captured vessels and their crew should be promptly released upon the posting of a reasonable bond or other security. Besides, penalties for violations of fisheries laws and regulations in the exclusive economic zones may not include imprisonment or any other form of corporal punishment in the absence of agreements to the contrary by the states concerned, he said.

This showed that the Maritime Zone of India Act, 1981, violates the spirit of the U.N. Convention and does not fully adhere to international laws of the sea.

Venkataramani said: "The worst tragedy is that the law of this land permitted the illegal and wrongful detention of persons who had already completed their jail terms. Their detention is in contravention of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution."

He said that an important point that had to be considered was whether the fishermen had crossed the maritime boundary intentionally. He added: "All the evidence and documents show that the violation of maritime boundary by the fishermen has been unintentional."

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