Colombo, November 5 (The New Indian Express): India and Sri Lanka on Saturday agreed to set up a Joint Working Group (JWG) on the vexed fishermen’s issue and stipulated that the JWG will meet every three months and the Ministers of Fisheries will meet every six months, according to a joint communiqué issued by the Foreign Ministries of the two countries.
The Indian and Sri Lankan delegations in the JWG would include representatives from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, the Coast Guards and Navies of the two countries.
The first ministerial meeting would be held on January 2, 2017 in Colombo.
The Fishermen’s Associations of the two countries to meet every six months to take further their dialogue from the meeting held on November 2, 2016 in New Delhi.
These decisions were taken at a meeting of Indian and Sri Lankan Foreign and Fisheries Ministers in New Delhi on Saturday.
Among those who attended Saturday’s ministerial meeting were: Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Minister of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare Radha Mohan Singh, Sri Lankan Minister for Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera, the Sri Lankan Minister for Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Mahinda Amaraweera, Indian Minister of State for Road Transport, Highways & Shipping Pon Radhakrishnan and the Sri Lankan Member of Parliament M.A. Sumanthiran.
Sumanthiran, who belongs to the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), has been seeking a ban on bottom trawling in both Sri Lanka and India. This is also the first time a Tamil MP has been included in a Sri Lankan official delegation discussing the fishing issue with India. It makes sense to include a Tami political representative as the fishing issue relates essentially to the Tamil fishermen of North Sri Lanka.
Terms Of Reference for JWG
The Terms of Reference for the Joint Working Group on Fisheries would include (i) expediting the transition towards ending the practice of bottom trawling at the earliest, (ii) working out the modalities for theStandard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for handing over of apprehended fishermen, and (iii) ascertaining possibilities for cooperation on patrolling.
The issue of the release of detained fishing vessels will be discussed at the first JWG meeting.
Both governments agreed on setting up a hotline between the two Coast Guards. There was support for expediting the provision of communication tracking sets to the fishermen. They also agreed to the request by the Fishermen Associations that there should be no violence and no loss of life in the handling of fishermen by the Navies and Coast Guards of the two countries.
The Ministers noted that the process is underway for the release of fishermen presently in custody on either side.