The Marine Aids to Navigation Bill which was passed by the Rajya Sabha on 27 July 2021 seeks to create an integrated and comprehensive framework for the development and management of aids to the navigation systems that include assistance to vessel traffic services, by chalking out the related technicalities. Integrated and collaborative efforts of the center and the state apparatuses coupled with efficient implementation of the Act would bear fruits of success in the long run
The given paper seeks to analyze the provisions of the Marine Aids to Navigation Act, 2021 with the aid of secondary and descriptive data. The data analyzed is descriptive and secondary in nature. The data is collected mostly from online repositories such as journals, gazettes, articles published by government-based organizations.
Isn’t it common for us to see the changing traffic light signals at the crossings from red to green guiding us to stop, or the airplane traffic router managing duly the air traffic? Of course, we have!
The traffic lights, road barriers, bollards, traffic studs, GPS, routers,s, and other modern devices and signals have made our lives safer and easier by guiding us to a location, routes, and signaling prospective hazards that we might encounter on our road and air journeys. Unfortunately, these signals and devices are absent during the course of water voyages. To make the course of water navigation facile and secure, man-made devices are used to determine the water channel, position, and mark the dangers.
Technically, the aids to navigation refer to the intricated and consolidated network of devices and services such as lights, radio beacons, lightships, lighthouse, fog signals, buoys, and other visible, audible, and electronic devices that seek to enhance the safety and efficiency of the navigation system of individual vessels and vessel traffic. Traffic services refer to that system of radar and sensors that advise the vessels about their position with respect to shores. The mariners use these devices to chart the nautical miles/ marks, water depth, hazards, channel vessel positions, and other features that are not present on maps or atlas.
The Light House Act was enacted in 1927 that sought to provide assistance to the mariners and water vessels by aiding them with the necessary infrastructure and the requisite devices and signals. However, consistent progress in the field of science and technology coupled with the mushrooming globalization made the provisions of the Lighthouse Act obsolete and redundant. This forced the legislature to adopt a new course of framework so as to keep pace with the technological upgrades and global standards.
Also historically, India has been a signatory to myriad international treaties including maritime covenants and instruments such as the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974, Lighthouse Authorities System, etc. The constitutional mandate of our State via the instrument of DPSP i.e. directive principles of state policies casts an obligation on the state pieces of machinery to give effect to such treaties. It is in this reference that parliament sought to enforce the international treaties on maritime navigational aids and tabled the Marine Aids to Navigation Bill 2021 with a view to spur development and efficiency in the relational aspects of vessel traffic services, aids to navigation and marking of wrecks. The bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 15 March 2021 and was passed by Rajya Sabha on 27 July 2021. And hence the Lighthouse Act, of 1927 was repealed by the Marine Aids to Navigation Bill in 2021. The Act seeks to administer 195 lighthouses, a significant number of radio and digital aids to navigation, and a host of other vessels.
The act seeks to create an integrated and comprehensive framework for the development and management of aids to the navigation systems that include assistance to vessel traffic services, by chalking out the related technicalities. The act also provides for the certification and training of the operators who tend to aid this navigational process. Also, it emphasizes the comprehensive development of historical education and cultural values pertaining to the aid to management. It further seeks to establish a framework, providing for the levy and dues which is to be extracted from this institutionalized process of navigational aid, thereby helping the state to discharge its sovereign developmental functions.
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
JURISDICTION AND AUTHORITY
Section 1 elucidates the territorial jurisdiction of the Act. The Act extends to entire India including the maritime zones as per the territorial water limits, continental shelves, exclusive economic zones.
As per Section 2 subsection 1 (b), “aid to navigation” means a device, system, or service that is external to vessels and is designed and operated to enhance safe and efficient navigation of individual vessels and vessel traffic.
As per 2 (1) (q), vessel means and includes all the descriptions of water means and crafts that are capable of being used in the marine environment.
The authority to demarcate the districts and appoint the Director-General; Deputy Director Generals; and Directors for districts for the purposes of the act lies with the central government. The Director-General is expected to meticulously advise the Central Government on the relational aspects of the aids to navigation.
The Central advisory committee and the sub-committees appointed by the central government areas are required to establish, manage and modify the system of aids to navigation and thereby oversee the cost-effectiveness of the present and future operations and proposals respectively. The members of such committees are such persons whose interests stand affected by this said Act.
“General aid to navigation” refers to those aid to navigation that is periodically notified by the central government. The development and management of all such aids shall exclusively vest with the central government including establishment, addition, removal, alteration, and authority to an inspection of aids to navigation. Also, the central government is authorized to acquire both public and private property for furthering the developmental agenda under this Act.
MANAGEMENT OF VESSEL TRAFFIC SERVICES
The central government and its selected bodies/ officials have been entrusted with the responsibility to manage and develop vessel traffic services. It has been empowered to authorize and declare the vessel traffic services providers to operate under an authorized area; to accredit and certify the vessel traffic service provider and impart the requisite training. Further, the union government is required to appoint a competent Authority for Vessel Traffic Services so as to oversee the above-mentioned operations and maintain the benchmarks of efficiency and effectiveness.
LOCAL AIDS TO NAVIGATION
Section 14 of the Act elucidates the power to inspect any local navigation aid. “local aid to navigation” includes those aid to navigation that are not included in general aid to navigation and “local authority” includes State Government or any other authority having superintendence over a local aid to navigation.
The Central Government can authorize certain officials (the ones mentioned in Section 4(1)) to inspect and enquire about any local aid navigation. The information so collected has to be filed with the central government. The central government after analyzing the said information may pass the necessary orders, thereby directing either refraining or encouraging the required course of action to further the necessary results pertaining to aids of navigation. The Act casts an obligation upon the local authority to bring to the notice of center about its intention, at least before one month in writing, to erect or maintain; refrain from erecting any local aid to management. However, in the cases of emergency, the authority could divert from the above route of action and act on its own without serving any due notice to the center, given that after the said course of action, it has to give immediate notice to the center and if possible, to other vessels immediately.
If the local authority fails to comply with the orders of central government; performs its duties in an inefficient or improper manner; or makes inadequate financial provisions for the satisfaction of any duty; the central government could either ask it to undertake the necessary course of action for the performance of such duties or could ask for the requisite reimbursements as may be deemed necessary.
As per Section 17, the central government is armored with the power to remove those obstructions or restrict the activities that tend to disrupt the functioning of aids to navigation.
TRAINING AND CERTIFICATION
The Central government is exclusively empowered to train and certify the operators of aids to navigation and vessel traffic services. No person is allowed to indulge in any operations of aid to navigation (including ancillary services) without a valid training certificate which is to be obtained from any centrally accredited training organization.
Wrecks could be marked only by any centrally directed official, the cost of which shall be recovered from the vessel owner. Marking of wrecks could help to identify the stranded and sunken ships, thereby leading to effective management of vessel traffic. The central government could notify any aid to navigation under its control as a heritage lighthouse which could then be also used for educational and tourism purposes besides its use as an aid to navigation.
COLLECTION OF DUES
Marine aids to navigation dues are levied and collected by the central government. It is to be collected by the government-designated officers on arrival or departure of any ship from any port in India; the proceed of which is to be credited in the consolidated fund of India. Such marine dues are to be utilized for fulfilling the obligations of this said act.
The ship owners are required to self-assess the dues and deposit such amount into the account of the central government, thereby filing a due return before the proper officer. The number of marine dues so assessed by the vessel owners has to be approved by the designated officer in respect of the amount paid, date of payment, tonnage, and other desired information, for the purpose of granting clearance. In case of nonpayment or neglection of the said dues by the ship owners, the officer may seize the ship along with its equipment and detain the same until the amount of the marine aids to navigation dues, together with the costs of the seizure and detention is paid. Inability in payments of the said dues within thirty days of seizure could lead to the sale of the seized goods and ships by the officer for the satisfaction of the marine aids to navigation dues. The port clearance certificate would not be granted to the ships until and unless the marine aid to navigation dues along with the fines imposed therein have been duly paid.
If any ship tends to leave the said port without payment of the marine dues, the proper officer of that port would inform the proper officer at the other port towards which the ship may proceed, to recover such marine dues remaining unpaid.
In case of payment of excess dues, only those claims to refund the excess marine dues payable under this act shall be held admissible that have been claimed within six months from the date of payment.
Disputes and discrepancies arising between the parties, in the context of the determination and payment of the marine aids to navigation dues have to be determined by a civil court having jurisdiction at the place where the dispute arose.
The Central government can exempt those ships belonging to central or state government that do not carry any cargo or, ships from the payment of the marine aids to navigation dues.
FINANCIAL ACCOUNTS AND AUDITS
Section 35 of the Act mandates the Central government to maintain a separate account for recording the amount received via payment of marine aids to navigation dues and other receipts under this act, and expenses incurred for the purposes of this Act. Such financial statement has to be presented before the Central Advisory Committee at the end of each financial year. Such an account has to be prepared as per the guidelines and direction of the Comptroller and the Auditor General of India.
OFFENCES AND PENALTIES
As per Section 37 of the Act, Intentional commitment or omitment of any act by any person leading to obstruction or reduction in effectiveness in any aids to navigation may lead to imprisonment for a term extending up to six months or with a fine extending to Rs 1 lakh or with both whereas as per Section 38 negligent commitment or non-commitment of any impugned act may lead to imprisonment for a term extending up to three months or with fine extending to Rs 50,000 or with both. However, if the said act was undertaken to save a life or a vessel; or if reasonable steps were taken to avoid the obstruction, the person shall not be punished.
As per Section 39 of the Act, Intentional commitment or omit of any act by any person leading to the destruction of any aids to navigation may lead to imprisonment for a term extending up to twelve months or with a fine extending to Rs 5 lakh or with both whereas as per Section 40, negligent commitment or non-commitment of any impugned act may lead to imprisonment for a term extending up to six months or with fine extending to Rs 1 lakh or with both.
As per Section 41, damage or destruction of any heritage lighthouse may lead to imprisonment for a term extending up to six months or with a fine extending to Rs 1 lakh or with both.
As per Section 42, the ship owners who seek to evade the payment of marine aids to navigation dues in respect of their ships shall be made liable to pay a fine, which may extend up to five times the amount of the sum so payable.
As per Section 44, cognizance of any offense under this Act would be taken only upon a written complaint filed by any centrally authorized officer.
Offenses committed under this act shall be tried by a civil court, no lower courts to that of Metropolitan Magistrate or a Judicial Magistrate of the first class, under whose jurisdiction: the offense was committed; or such place where the offender was found or; such court notified by central government or; in any court in which he might be tried under any other law for time being in force.
Section 46 of the Act empowers the central government to make rules in respect of multifarious aspects of this Act that includes a listing of the duties of the director-general under Section 5 of the act; listing out the procedure and business conduct of the Central Advisory Committee and sub-committees, laying down the standards for establishment and operation of vessel traffic services; elaborating the procedure for marking of wrecks under section 21, specifying the criteria for the accreditation of training organizations providing marine aids to navigation certificates, listing out the ancillary activities under section 18(2) of the act, laying down the developmental plans for heritage lighthouses, manner of filing return under section 24(4), etc.
Section 47 of the Act empowers the Central Government to delegate functions and powers conferred upon it to any of its officers under this Act.
Section 49 bestows immunity from prosecution upon the central government and any of its officers in respect of those acts which have been purportedly done in good faith. The act prescribes for laying down of notifications and rules made under this act before both houses of parliament for seeking its validity and thereby giving effect to any modification or annulment of any rule as may be prescribed by the parliament without prejudicing the validity of any previous action done under previous rule or notification.
The Act could unravel a host of untapped benefits that would accrue upon the marine and its allied sectors with the passage of this bill. The act could lead to a systematic appraisal of the efficiency and economy in the following ways:
- The Act provides for an enhanced legal framework in the matters related to aids to navigation and vessels traffic management by specifying in length and breadth the legalities associated with the aids to navigation. The Act specifies the pecuniary liabilities for the disobedience of the rules, provides for accounting and auditing of the transactions wherein the monetary obligations regarding the transactions have been laid out systematically, providing for the legal procedures pertaining to the seizures of the goods and vessels, adjudication of the disputes and discrepancies by laying down the due jurisdiction of the civil courts and the other nuances.
- The act provides for the due development, maintenance, and management of the old lighthouses having historical and cultural importance. Reforms of such sort could potentially tap and boost the tourism of the coastal areas leading to the upliftment of the economies of the coastal towns. Also, it would add to the repository of educational and cultural values, thereby adding to the enrichment of our historical heritage.
- The Act facilitates training and certification of the operators of the aids to navigation and vessel traffic services at par with the international standards, by laying down the certification criteria and benchmarks of such operators and the institutions that provide such training.
- The Act seeks to enhance the efficiency of the vessel traffic services and aids to navigation by laying down the detailed framework for its management and development. The act specifies the territorial jurisdictional limit and the hierarchical flowchart of the officers and employees, the formation of the central advisory committee for the consultations in the key matters relating to aids to navigation infrastructure and management, the appointment of presiding officers, and demarking of the districts for the purposes of the act, provides for marking of the wrecks so as to identify and mark the sunken or the stranded vessels which in turn would lead to efficient and effective navigation.
- The Act strives to inculcate and enforce harmonized and integrated set of norms, at par with the international standards, in regards to accreditation and certification of the institutes providing training to the operators of the aids to navigations and vessel traffic services by keeping the leash of decision making under the ambit of the central government. The Act seeks to keep a close watch on the nuances associated with accreditation purposes such as authorization of the vessel traffic services provider, so as to maintain the requite index of international norms.
- The Act lays down a systematic framework and guidelines for the collection of dues and revenues that could be used for the upliftment and development of the sector. Right from the specification of the dues collecting officers to the deposition, account audit, credit of funds to central accounts, dues verification, utilization of the funds, etc., the act strives to elucidate the fiscal nuances associated with the implementation of the Act.
In the course of establishing harmonized and integrated set of procedures, the act seems to embellish and arm the central government with undue significance. The core aspects of management and development of the general aids to navigation coupled with management of vessel traffic services have been kept under the tight reign of the central government. Powers related to the establishment, alteration, addition, authorization of officials and inspection, acquisition of property, etc. rests with the center. The power to appoint competent authorities and local presiding officers in the respect of a local area also rests with the central government. Such centralization of power may lead to the disequilibrium in the effective functioning of the Act, wherein empowerment of one unit would lead to the curtailment of the powers of the other unit. Balancing the conflicting interests of the center and state by adoring proportionate decision-making power to the State government would serve the interests of the stakeholders.
CONCLUSION AND SUGGESTION
The Marine Aids to Navigation Act which repealed the Light House Act 1927 seeks to effectively manage and strengthen the infrastructure cushioning the marine aids to navigation and vessel traffic services. The legal framework laid down via this Act seeks to effectively address the discrepancies that arose in the course of adjudication of civil grievances under the regime of the Light House Act. Also, the clear-cut division of power amidst the official mechanism and authorities provides an upper edge. Further, the inculcation of penal deterrents for the breakage of the rules seeks to enhance the effectiveness of the act. However, the primary regulations of the Act such as the appointment of officers, committees, demarcation of districts, etc. have been kept under the bay of the central government, thereby, rendering the state government helpless and crippled to a certain extent. Effective functioning of the aids to navigation and management of the vessel traffic services could only be achieved with the harmonious functioning of the central and state mechanism wherein equal decision-making power is conferred upon both. Integrated and collaborative efforts coupled with efficient implementation would bear the fruits of success in the long run.
This article is written by Riya Ganguly, 2 nd year BBA LLB student at Bharati Vidyapeeth New Law College, Pune.