TN fishermen issue – the truth of the matter

TN fishermen are detained because they trespass

TN fishermen are detained because they trespass
TN fishermen are detained because they trespass

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]E[/dropcap]ven as Tamil Nadu (TN) government is making frequent complaints to the Centre about “repeated instances of abduction and apprehension of innocent Indian fishermen belonging to the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu by the Sri Lankan Navy while eking out their livelihood in their traditional fishing waters,” the Indian Coast Guard entrusted with the protection of the country’s seas is all set to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Sri Lankan Coast Guard for joint sea exercises and training.

Last Saturday Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa had shot off yet another missive (her fourth letter after assuming office for the second term on May 23) to Prime Minister Narendra Modi lambasting the Sri Lankan Navy for its continued attacks on fishermen from the state who venture out into the Palk Bay (the Sri Lankan side of the Indian Ocean) for fishing. She said till date the Sri Lankan Navy had arrested 21 Tamil Nadu fishermen and seized 92 fishing boats for fishing in their traditional waters and wanted the immediate intervention of the Prime Minister to get these fishermen and fishing boats released from the Sri Lankan custody.

But Rajendra Singh, the director general of the Coast Guard has a different version to tell. In a recent interaction with the media, Singh gave a clean chit to the Sri Lankan Navy (SLN) and said at no point of time the SLN has arrested fishermen fishing on the Indian side of the International Maritime Boundary Line.

“The Indian Coast Guard is constantly talking with fishermen to educate them through our community interaction programme. We have held 236 programmes in 2016 alone and out teams are reaching out to villages along Tamil Nadu coast and educating the fishermen not to cross the International Marine Border Line (IMBL), be it between India and Sri Lanka or Pakistan or Bangladesh or Myanmar,” said Singh.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]E[/dropcap]arlier, the Indian Coast Guard in an affidavit to the Madras High Court had made it clear that the Sri Lankan Navy has never trespassed into the Indian side of the IMBL and arrested any fisherman. This is in stark contrast to the claims made by successive governments of Tamil Nadu against the Sri Lankan Navy.

What has happened is that the mindless fishing in the Indian side of the IMBL by Tamil Nadu fishermen using trawlers has depleted the marine wealth. Since there is no fish along the Tamil Nadu coast, fishermen trespass into the Sri Lankan shores and do bottom trawling, a kind of fishing banned by the Sri Lankan government. More than a thousand boats from Tamil Nadu trespass into the Sri Lankan side of the Palk Bay and exploit the entire marine wealth while the poor Sri Lankan fishermen are forced to keep off the sea. It is only when the Tamil Nadu fishermen go too close to the Sri Lankan shores that they are arrested by the SLN.

According to Vijitha Herath, Sri Lanka MP, the island nation loses 40 million US Dollars every month because of the poaching by the Tamil Nadu fishermen. More than 50,000 families in the coast along the northern Sri Lanka are suffering because of the illegal fishing by Tamil Nadu fishermen. According to Herath, the national security, economic security and ecological security are under threat because of the uncontrolled and illegal fishing by the fishermen from Tamil Nadu.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]he Tamil Nadu government led by Jayalalithaa wants the Centre to retrieve the islet of Kachatheevu ceded to Sri Lanka by two agreements in 1974 and 1976 which were signed by the then Prime Ministers of India and Sri Lanka , Indira Gandhi and Sirimao Bandaranayake. She wants to annul the agreements with immediate effect so that the fishermen from Tamil Nadu could have free access to the region.

But the Union Government had told the Supreme Court recently that there is no possibility of retrieving the unmanned islet as the treaty was signed between two sovereign countries. R S Vasan, former Commodore of the Indian Navy who is an authority on the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean is of the view that the 1974 and 1976 agreements were to allow the Tamil Nadu fishermen to dry their nets in the islet. “They don’t have any fishing rights in the region. Moreover, the agreement was to help the fishermen who were using country boats and catamarans for their fishing. Now they use only trawlers and big mechanised boats which do not require facilities to dry nets,” said Vasan.

Mukul Rohatgi, attorney general of India, who represented the Centre in the Supreme Court told the Bench hearing the petition seeking the annulment of the 1974 and 1976 agreements that there is only one option to retrieve the islet from Sri Lanka “We may have to wage a war and that is the only option,” said Rohatgi jocularly expressing it clearly that the 1974 and 1976 treaties are final and a settled issue.

The “attacks” on fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy and the Tamil ethnic issue in sri Lanka are parts of Tamil Nadu politics. If these issues are not there many politicians in Tamil Nadu would find themselves out of work.


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