As Pakistan has expressed reservations, the Cabinet on Wednesday cleared the signing of a motor vehicles pact with three other nations of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) grouping — Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal.
The pact, to be signed on Monday, will enable seamless transit of passenger and cargo vehicles among these nations. Road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari now goes to Bhutan, where the pact is scheduled to be signed with his three counterparts.
A meeting of secretaries of transport of the four countries was organised by Gadkari’s ministry in February to finalise the draft, similar to the Saarc Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA) draft.
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Earlier, the Cabinet had approved a proposal to sign the Saarc MVA during the seven-nation summit at Kathmandu in November 2014. “Unfortunately, it could not be signed due to reservations of Pakistan. The Saarc declaration at the Kathmandu Summit also encouraged member states to initiate regional and sub-regional measures to enhance connectivity,” went an official statement issued on Wednesday.
The Cabinet also approved an ordinance to amend the Negotiable Instruments Act, to enable filing of cases relating to bouncing of cheques only in a jurisdiction where the cheque is presented for clearance. This would be the 14th ordinance since Narendra Modi government took charge in May last year.
The move has been necessitated by a Supreme Court order and the Bill in this regard was passed by the Lok Sabha in the recent session. It could not be cleared in the Rajya Sabha.
Oil pollution damage
The Cabinet also cleared the shipping ministry’s proposal for India's accession to the international convention of 2001 on civil liability for bunker oil pollution damage of the International Maritime Organization, and to amend the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958, to give effect to this ‘bunker convention’, the associated Salvage Convention and the Nairobi convention on wreck removal.
The bunker convention aims to ensure adequate, prompt, and effective compensation for damage caused by spills of oil, when carried as fuel in ships' bunkers. The territorial jurisdiction for damage compensation extends to territorial sea and exclusive economic zones. It would now apply to an Indian vessel wherever situated and to a foreign flag vessel while within Indian jurisdiction.
The registered owner of every vessel has to maintain a compulsory insurance cover which allows for a claim for compensation on pollution damage to be brought directly against an insurer. Every ship above a certain tonnage must have a certificate on board to this effect, and may not enter or leave Indian jurisdiction without one.
The liability cover for pollution damage shall be equal to the limits of liability under the applicable national or international limitation regime but in all cases, not exceeding an amount calculated in accordance with the 1976 convention on limitation of liability for maritime claims. India is a party to this and its provisions already exist in the Merchant Shipping Act and rules.
The bunker convention has been in force internationally since November 21, 2008, and maritime nations accounting for 91 per cent of world shipping tonnage are parties to this. If India does not become a party, too, Indian flag ships visiting foreign ports will have to continue with the present dispensation of approaching foreign countries for bunker insurance compliance certificates, while foreign ships visiting Indian ports are not subject to compulsory insurance.
As for the conventions on salvage and wreck removal, to which India is already a party, it will facilitate a more purposeful approach in this regard, introducing globally recognised and approved rules.
The Bill provides for duties of the salvor, owner and master of a vessel, plus rights and duties of the central government in cases of maritime casualty, in protecting the environment and coastline, and to pass directions on salvage.