Colombo, November 7 (The New Indian Express): For the first time in the history of Indo-Sri Lankan negotiations on the fishing issue troubling the two countries, India has agreed to “consider” the Sri Lankan proposal for the joint patrolling of the Palk Strait by the naval arms of the two countries.
The Terms of Reference for the Joint Working Group on Fisheries (JWGF) includes “ascertaining possibilities for cooperation on joint patrolling” by the naval arms of the two countries.
The other new commitment on the part of India is to “expedite the transition towards ending the practice of bottom trawling at the earliest.”
India’s agreeing to “work out the modalities for the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for handing over of apprehended fishermen,” indicates that it agrees to the apprehension and detention of fishermen who cross the International Maritime Boundary Line illegally.
It is also significant that the Joint Working Group will include “representatives from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, the Coast Guards and Navies of the two countries.”
According to observers here, all this shows that the two countries are going to take a hard line to put an end to the unhindered poaching by Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan waters.
According to a member of the Sri Lankan delegation which attended the Foreign and Fisheries Ministerial-level talks in New Delhi on November 5, the issue of giving Tamil Nadu fishermen three years time to take to give up bottom trawling and take to deep sea fishing was not even raised.
When India-Sri Lanka relations were not very good due to the war in the Tamil North, India had turned a deaf ear to Sri Lanka’ pleas for joint patrolling. But now, with peace returning to the North, and the accent is on bilateral cooperation for the economic and social development of the North, India and Sri Lanka are exploring ways of addressing contentious issues so that development takes place to the benefit of the two countries.
Similarly, the project to convert fishermen of Tamil Nadu from coastal fishers to deep sea fishers, which has been in the doldrums for decades due to a lack of commitment on the part of the Tamil Nadu and Central governments, will have to be pursued vigorously as per the Terms of Reference of the Joint Working Group.
Tamil Nadu had been asking for central funding to bring about this conversion, but the Center had not been very forthcoming.
The high level fixed for contacts, and the set periodicity of the meetings of the JWG and the Ministers, show that a sense of urgency and purpose has been injected into efforts to solve the fishing problem at long last.
While the JWG will meet every three months, a ministerial level meeting will take place every six months .The first ministerial level meeting will be held on January 2, 2017 in Colombo. The Fishermen’s Associations of the two countries will meet every six months to take their dialogue further from the meeting held on November 2 in New Delhi.