Colombo, March 14 (newsin.asia): A permanent solution to the fishing issue in the Palk Strait lies with the governments of India and Sri Lanka, and not with the fishermen of the two countries or the Tamil Nadu government, says U.Arulanandam, President of the Rameswaram-based Association for the Release of Innocent Fishermen.
Talking to Express over the phone on Monday, Arulanandam conceded that Indian fishermen cross the International Maritime Boundary Line to fish on the Sri Lankan side. But he justified it by saying that the Palk Strait is too narrow a stretch of water for boundary lines to be respected. The sea is narrow, and the number of Indian trawlers, estimated to be 2500, is high. But he believes that the resources of this small sea could be shared between the fishing communities of the two countries through an agreement between the Indian and Sri Lankan governments.
“Trawling could be regulated or even banned. The use of certain types of nets could be banned. And finally, Indian fishermen could be given financial help to buy deep sea fishing vessels and abandon fishing in the Palk Strait altogether. But none of this can be done by the fishermen or the Tamil Nadu government. Only the Indian Central government, working closely with the Sri Lankan government, can do them,” Arulanandam said.
“However, sadly, none of this has been done despite several rounds of talks between the two governments and between the fishermen’s organizations,” he pointed out.
“The Indian government has not done enough to divert fishermen from the Palk Strait to the ocean beyond. The Tamil Nadu government had put forward to the Central government an INR 10,000 crore scheme to convert trawlers into multi-day deep sea vessels. But the Centre has been sitting over the proposal. INR 10,000 crore is a flea bite for the Central government. But still, it has not been allocated.”
“Even if they give each fisherman’s family, INR 1 crore, and ask them to abandon fishing and take to some other business, the fishermen will be happy to oblige,” Arulanandam said.
But he is hopeful that the powerful Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, will be able to swing a good deal with the Sri Lankan government especially now that he has consolidated his hold over India through a stunning victory in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.
“Modi should be able to take bold decisions on the fishing issue both in terms of protecting the lives of fishermen from the Sri Lankan navy and in terms of finding an alternative to fishing in the Palk Strait.,” Arulanandam said.
Seeking redress from Sri Lanka for shooting to death 22 year old Britzo and injuring another, he said that India should take action against Colombo under international law as, according to him, it is clearly stated therein that erring fishermen can only be arrested and that killing is impermissible. He pointed out that even Pakistanis do not fire on Indian fishermen who stray into Pakistani waters .They are only imprisoned.
He further pointed out that in 2012, when Italian Marines killed two Kerala fisherman mistaking them for pirates, the marines were arrested and a case had been filed against them.
“If a case can be filed in that case, what is preventing New Delhi from taking legal action against the concerned Sri Lankan naval personnel,” he asked.
According to Arulanandam, 187 Indian fishermen have been killed and 82 are missing since 1985 when the Sri Lankan navy began the practice of opening fire on intruding Indian fishermen. But this ceased when New Delhi and Colombo entered into a pact by which violence was to be abjured. However, the practice of using firearms was resumed in November 2016, when two fishermen from Karaikal were injured. But New Delhi has neither verbally condemned these incidents nor taken any punitive action against Sri Lanka.
Arulanandam warned that if no action is taken to solve the problem and stem the practice of opening fire on fishermen, the younger generation of fishermen could take to violence themselves and the problem could snowball into something vastly more dangerous.
“But I still have hopes that the matter will be solved with Modi at the helm. The discussions we had with (Central government minister) Nirmala Seetharaman give us that confidence. We have to solve this problem while Modi is in power in Delhi, and good officers like Gagandeep Singh Bedi (Collector of Ramanathapuram) and Taranjit Singh Sandhu ( High Commissioner in Colombo) are in charge,” Arulanandam said.
(The featured picture at the top shows Indian women wailing over the dead body of a young fishermen who was allegedly shot by a Sri Lankan naval rating)