India-Sri Lanka Fishermen Issue

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    In News

    • The Sri Lankan Navy has arrested Indian fishermen for allegedly crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL).

    Conflict between Sri Lankan Navy and Indian fishermen (Issues for Sri Lanka)

    • Rich maritime resources: In the past fishermen from Rameshwaram and nearby coasts continued to sail towards Talaimannar and Katchatheevu coasts, a region famous for rich maritime resources in Sri Lanka.
    • Plenty of catch in this oceanic region: Had triggered a proliferation of fishing trawlers in Tamil Nadu coast in the past three decades.
    • Sri Lankan civil war: There were many favorable reasons too for Indian fishermen as their access to Sri Lankan waters was easier at the time of Sri Lankan civil war.
    • Absence of poor Tamil fishermen of Sri Lanka: Due to the war also favored fishing by Indian trawlers.
    • Blaming the Indian fishermen for trespass: The fishermen had not violated the maritime boundary as claimed by Sri Lanka. It had become routine for the Sri Lankan Navy to blame the Indian fishermen for trespass and arrest them by using force.
    • Fishermen issue in Tamil politics: It has been often a sensitive political issue in Tamil Nadu in the past decade. Tamil regional parties, especially the AIADMK, had been often fighting with the previous UPA as well as the current NDA governments for their indifference to the issue.
    • Maritime boundaries were never tightly guarded: Sri Lanka remained preoccupied with its war against the LTTE. When its Northern Province and maritime boundaries nearby were never tightly guarded as a result, Indian trawlers continued to routinely enter Lankan waters for fishing.

    Source: Tribune

     Fishermen’s Concern

    • Depletion of marine resources on the Indian side: Arrests and attacks increased on Indian fishermen as they continued entering Lankan waters because of depletion of marine resources on the Indian side.
    • Katchatheevu Island: While the unpopular truth in the entire conflict is accusations about Tamil fishermen entering Sri Lankan waters, ownership of Katchatheevu Island, where Tamil fishermen had traditional fishing rights for centuries, also remains an unresolved issue.
      • In 1974, the island was ceded to Sri Lanka after an agreement was signed by Indira Gandhi between the two countries without consulting the Tamil Nadu government.
      • The agreement allowed Indian fishermen “access to Katchatheevu for rest, for drying of nests and for the annual St Anthony’s festival” but it did not ensure the traditional fishing rights.
    • Proliferation of trawlers in Indian coast: Trawlers are mechanized boats with highly exploitative fishing nets unlike most of the poor fishermen on the Sri Lankan coast who use traditional fishing methods.
      • Each trawler travels up to 18kms towards Talaimannar and Katchatheevu in search of better catch. And in recent years, they often return with huge losses due to plummeting resources and restrictions on Sri Lankan waters.

    Government’s Initiative

    • Providing all necessary support: This included clothes, toiletries, snacks, dry essentials and masks, besides facilitating phone calls to relatives. They were also arranging legal representation.
    • Check on their welfare: In the case of one fisherman who was indisposed, the Indian Consular Officer has visited him in the hospital to check on his welfare.
    • Issue of early release of the fishermen and boats: The Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka had taken up the issue of early release of the fishermen and boats with the Government of Sri Lanka.

    Way Forward

    • Alternative livelihood to fishing in Palk Bay: Indian Government should ensure assistance to the states so that fishermen are able to find alternative livelihoods to fishing in Palk Bay.
    • Joint patrols and operations: between the two countries to guarantee effective results on illegal fishing and trespassing.
    • United Nations: If both countries are unable to settle the dispute, then they could seek assistance from international maritime experts through the United Nations.
    • Island of Kachchatheevu: India can try to get back to the island of Kachchatheevu on lease for fishing activity.

    Source: TH