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HC: issue death certificates to Malta victims
Our High Court Correspondent

Chandigarh, May 1
Providing succour to the families of the victims of the Malta Boat tragedy, the Punjab and Haryana High Court today directed the Centre and the Punjab Government to issue death certificates of the deceased at the earliest.

The order comes almost 10 years after the incident.

The Bench of Acting Chief Justice Mr Justice H.S. Bedi and Mr Justice R.S. Randhawa also ordered the immediate payment of ex-gratia of Rs 50,000 announced by the Punjab Government to the next of kin of each deceased.

The order was passed after the Government of India filed an affidavit in the high court, acknowledging that 141 persons from Punjab had lost their lives when their boat capsized near Sicily (Italy).

Over 300 persons, including 141 from Punjab, had drowned in the sea on December 25, 1996. The Indians who died were mostly those who were being taken illegally to Italy by unscrupulous travel agents.

The petitioner the Malta Boat Tragedy Probe Mission through Mr Balwant Singh Khera -- had prayed for directions to the respondent to issue death certificates of the deceased.

However, the petitioner claimed that only 15-16 persons had actually been given the cash compensation.

The petitioner said though the Punjab Government as well as the Union Government had time and again claimed that the ex-gratia had been paid in all cases, but it is not true.

In a letter dated December 2, 2004, addressed to the petitioner, the Union Minister of State for External Affairs, Mr E. Ahmed, said ex-gratia had been paid to families of 79 deceased. However, when the petitioner sought details of such cases, no list was provided to it.

It stated that the issue of the grant of compensation was hanging fire in most cases as death certificates was not issued by the authorities. In case if the body of a deceased is not found, then the authorities wait for seven years to pass before the death certificate is issued.

The petitioner had stated that since eight years had elapsed since the tragedy took place, the government should be directed to issue death certificates of the victims.

After disposing of the petition of the Malta Boat Tragedy Probe Mission, the Bench also disposed of the related pleas, including the one filed by the Malta Boat Sufferers Association, which sought a thorough probe and inquiry into the incident. It had also prayed that directions be issued to the respondents to prosecute those responsible for the incident.

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