No compromise in Italian marines case: Antony
Defence Minister A K Antony on Sunday said there was no question of any compromise with regard to the case relating to the two Italian marines who had allegedly shot dead two Indian fishermen off Kerala coast in February 2012.
"Government policy is that as per Indian rules the case will go ahead. There will be no compromise. We are not going back in any way in the case. We are going ahead with the case as per Indian laws," he told media persons in Kochi.
The minister was replying to a query on whether there was a softening of India's stand on the issue after the law ministry concurred with the external affairs ministry on the non-applicablity of the anti-piracy law.
The law ministry is of the view that the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA) should not apply in the case of the two marines.
Antony said the home ministry and the external affairs ministry are handling the matter.
On criticism against the Indian Navy over recent mishaps, including the Sindhurakshak tragedy, Antony said all such incidents have been taken seriously.
He said he considers his ministry as a family. "In a family we discuss every issue. It doesn't mean I am pulling up anybody. In the Army, Navy and Airforce we consider safety of operations. Sometimes accients happen. But for me, even one incident cannot be ignored. All incidents we take seriously."
He said that the Navy has ordered a court of enquiry, based on which corrective action was being taken.
"There is no alarming situation. But at the same time, Indian Navy is a growing organisation. Indian military is a growing military and one of the best in the world," he said.
India had entered into defence cooperation agreements with 48 countries, including in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and ASEAN and they were all keen for closer cooperation with India, he said, adding many countries want joint exercises with India.
On relations with China, Antony said they were "improving".
"The Indian defence secretary will be meeting his Chinese counterpart in Delhi tomorrow. We have decided to have joint exercises of the Army and Air Force," he said.
Though India and China have vast areas, by and large the border was peaceful, he said adding both countries are taking care to maintain peace. "But since the border is not demarcated, occasionally some incidents do take place. There are 8-10 points disputed by both countries," he said.
Antony said compared to the past, both armies are able to intervene at the formative level itself and added that as long as the borders are still to be demarcated, he could not rule out such incidents.
On the Navy's proposal to set up a berthing space within the proposed Vizhinam port at Thiruvananthapuram, he said the government was examining the proposal. It involves financial commitment. "We have to follow procedures. Navy is serious about participating in the project. We are expanding. We need berthing facilities and are also anxiously waiting clearance from Cochin port also for similar facility here."
He said due to safety concerns in international waters, many ships are being diverted through the Indian coast. Since there are thousands of fishermen and trawlers in the area, international maritime organisations have been asked to take all precautions to ensure safety of fishermen while passing through, he said.
To ensure coastal safety in India, 48 static coastal radars had been set up in the first phase and 38 would be set up in the second phase. Of the total, 34 were in the mainland, six in Lakshadweep and four in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
However, due to environment issues in Narcondum island in Andaman, home to a rare bird species, only three radars had been set up in the island and an alternative place would be found.
Asked if he was satisfied with his tenure as defence minister, he replied in the affirmative and added he was happy that one rank, one pension scheme for defence personnel had been introduced.
"Life is full of achievements and setbacks," he said when asked if he harboured any regrets.
Antony said Rs 40 crore has been handed over to Kerala government for land acquisition for the second and third phase of the Brahmos project.
The Director General of Coast Guard also handed over a cheque for Rs 86 lakh to the Defence Minister as their contribution to Prime Minister's relief fund.