India to file cases in Sri Lanka for release of Tamil fishing boats! (Sketch of salient features of a conflict)

India to file cases in Sri Lanka for release of Tamil fishing boats!  (Sketch of salient features of a conflict)

-Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal




Bilateral relations between the Republic of India and the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka have been generally friendly, but were controversially affected by the Sri Lankan civil war and by the failure of Indian intervention during the war. India is the only neighbour of Sri Lanka, separated by the Palk Strait; both nations occupy a strategic position in South Asia and have sought to build a common security umbrella in the Indian Ocean.

Both India and Sri Lanka are SAARC members and woo China for specific reasons.

The relations between India and Sri Lanka have not been good enough for quite some time now.  A new irritant in Indo-Lankan relation is about the Tamil refugees and proper rehabilitation measures in Sri Lanka in which both have minor disagreements.

Adding to it, the fate of Tamil Nadu fishermen in Sri Lankan sea waters and their fishing boats is a major concern for Indian authorities, especially the government in Chennai. The Indian High Commission in Colombo will be filing petitions in various Sri Lanka courts, seeking release of 81 boats of Indian fishermen even as the Tamil Nadu government has sent officials to the island nation with necessary documents. “An official of the Indian High Commission in Colombo in a mail dated February 11, 2015, said petitions seeking to release boats of Indian fishermen were to be filed before various courts in Sri Lanka,” according to a state government release. The state government has sent a delegation of officials of the Fisheries Department from Rameswaram along with representations from the owners of these boats, it said.

Once the boats are handed over to the officials, the state government would send recovery teams comprising over 150 fishermen to Sri Lanka with the Centre’s permission and bring them back with the help of Indian Coast Guard, it said. “Tamil Nadu government would bear the cost incurred for fuel, food and repair, while the boats are being brought back from Sri Lanka,” it said.

The TN state government has been making efforts to ensure the release of these boats belonging to fishermen from the state and is presently in the custody of Sri Lankan authorities.

There have been are some problems between South Asian nations India and Sri Lanka as they share sea waters on Indian Ocean.

A few incident would reveal the nature of Indo-Lankan conflict, leaving  aside the LTTE issue.

24 Indian fishermen are currently under detention or arrest in Sri Lankan jails on the charge of alleged fishery related violation, the government said on 27th November.  In a written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha, minister of state in the ministry of external affairs (MEA) Gen VK Singh gave this information.

Members of DMK and AIADMK then clashed In Parliament over the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka and Mod’s attitude to the problem. The House then witnessed sharp exchanges between the two members of two parties. Minister for Telecom Ravishankar Prasad tried to mollify them. Prasad said the Government “completely shares” the concerns of the members and will do everything for the security of the Tamil fishermen.

AIADMK said Tamil fishermen were treated as “slaves” in Sri Lanka.DMK charged the Government with being insensitive to the plight of Tamil fishermen despite the issue raised in Parliament several times.  The DMK leader said he was highlighting the matter in the House for the second time within 15 days as 40 fishermen of Tamil Nadu were arrested by Sri Lankan Navy in November and 38 are languishing in jails there. He also said such incidents had become a regular feature now and alleged that be it UPA or NDA, they are “totally neglecting” Tamil Nadu.

Over the years, the issue of the arrests of Indian fishermen has got increasingly entangled with the Tamil question. The Sri Lankan Tamil community’s battle for political rights and the plight of Indian fishermen in Lankan jails have a resonance in the Tamil street. Hence, the invoking of the president’s executive powers to issue the pardon could be seen as an attempt on the part of the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration to reach out to Tamils in India.  A radical change in Tamil opinion is unlikely in the absence of some closure on the charges of war crimes leveled at Colombo. At the core of the fishermen issue — Indian trawlers and crew have been held by the Sri Lankan navy for fishing in their waters — is the livelihood of people dependent on fisheries and the depleting stock in the seas off the Tamil Nadu coast. The spurt in the number of trawlers in the past two decades has resulted in overfishing in Indian waters and the fishermen now trespass into Lankan waters for a catch. Only an overhaul of the fisheries operations in Rameswaram would help in the long term. Meanwhile, New Delhi and Colombo should establish a mechanism to facilitate the speedy release of fishermen and boats taken into custody by their respective navies when they, by accident or choice, cross the maritime boundary. Incidentally, both countries already have an agreement in place for the transfer of convicted prisoners.

58 Tamil fishermen released from Sri Lankan jails were brought back to Karaikal port by Indian coast Guard on April 1 last year.  The Indian Coast Guard also handed over 17 Sri Lankan fishermen released from jail and their 10 boats to Sri Lankan Navy at the international maritime boundary line. This move comes after the then President of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapakse ordered the release of Indian fishermen who had been detained for poaching. Rajapakse asked officials to immediately release all fishermen who had been arrested for allegedly violating the island’s territorial waters.

It was a goodwill gesture Rajapakse as India had abstained from voting for the U.S.-backed resolution seeking probe into Sri Lankan war crimes at the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday. Although, India refrained from voting against its neighbour, the resolution was passed with the support of 23 nations.

On 28 October 2014 Twenty-four fishermen from Tamil Nadu called off their hunger strike in a prison in Sri Lanka after the island nation’s officials assured a fishermen’s body in the state that they would be set free in a week. The fishermen started a fast in the Lankan prison on Monday demanding that they be released along with their boats. Manoharan, president of the Federation of six fishermen’s associations in Nagapattinam, said officials in Sri Lanka had assured him that the fishermen would be released from the prison in Jaffna within a week. This had been conveyed to them after which they agreed to withdraw the fast, he said.

The fishermen, 16 from Pudukottai and eight from the coastal town Nagapattinam, were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy on September 28 when they were fishing near Katchatheevu, an islet ceded to Sri Lanka by India in 1974. A Sri Lankan court later ordered that they be lodged in a prison in Jaffna. Meanwhile, fishermen in 631 mechanised boats who put out to sea from in Rameswaram, had returned without fishing after the Sri Lankan Navy reportedly threatened to arrest them.

Tamil Nadu government on Nov 24, 2014 sought the Centre’s intervention for the release of 14 Indian fishermen arrested by the Lankan navy, and raised the issue of financial package for the community. Yesterday’s arrest showed Lankan authorities had resorted to “familiar tactics of harassing and intimidating fishermen from Tamil Nadu while they fish in their traditional fishing waters in the Palk Bay,” Chief Minister O Panneerselvam said in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Thanking PM Modi for his ‘timely intervention’ for release of five Indian fishermen on death row in Lanka for alleged drug trafficking after the state government took it up with him, Panneerselvam drew the Prime Minister’s attention to the problems of fishermen in the state.

TN CM Panneerselvam said his predecessor Jayalalithaa had taken several steps towards diversification of the avocation of some 10 lakh fisher folk dependent on fishing as their only source of livelihood. He also sought the abrogation of the 1974 and 1976 agreements ceding Katchatheevu islet to Sri Lanka, ‘as well as restoration of the traditional and historical fishing grounds of the Palk Bay to the Tamil Nadu fishermen,” he said while recalling Jayalalithaa challenging it in the Supreme Court on “extremely valid and legal grounds.” He said denying the Indian fishermen the right to peaceful fishing in their traditional waters of Palk Bay was causing ‘considerable angst’ among the community in the state. The chief minister sought Modi’s personal intervention to immediately resolve the long pending issue by retrieving Katchatheevu and restoring the traditional fishing rights. He also urged Modi to instruct the External Affairs Ministry to immediately take up with Colombo and ensure the release of 38 fishermen, including the 14 arrested, besides securing 78 boats currently in Lankan custody. Jayalalithaa government also killed some fishermen on the sea at Kudankulam for protesting against the nuclear reactors that pose serious radioactivity as well as blast threat to their lives.


BJP leader Subramanian Swami said on Nov 10 that the five Tamil Nadu fishermen sentenced to death in Sri Lanka for drug smuggling would be transferred to an Indian prison, citing a telephonic discussion between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.  Talks were held between Rajapaksa and Modi ji. The issue of Tamil fishermen who were to be hanged was raised. Rajapaksa said there is an agreement between India and SL for transfer of sentenced person.


In the 1970s–1980s, private entities and elements in the Research and Analysis Wing and the state government of Tamil Nadu were believed to be encouraging the funding and training for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a separatist insurgent force. In 1987, faced with growing anger amongst its own Tamils, and a flood of refugees, India intervened directly in the conflict for the first time after the Sri Lankan government attempted to regain control of the northern Jaffna region by means of an economic blockade and military assaults, India supplied food and medicine by air and sea. After subsequent negotiations, India and Sri Lanka entered into an agreement/13th amendment. The peace accord assigned a certain degree of regional autonomy in the Tamil areas with Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) controlling the regional council and called for the Tamil militant groups to lay down their arms. Further India was to send a peacekeeping force, named the IPKF to Sri Lanka to enforce the disarmament and to watch over the regional council.


The result was that the LTTE now found itself engaged in military conflict with the Indian Army. The government of India then decided that the IPKF should disarm the LTTE by force,[12] and the Indian Army launched number of assaults on the LTTE, including a month-long campaign dubbed Operation Pawan to win control of the Jaffna peninsula from the LTTE. When the IPKF engaged the LTTE, the then president of Sri Lanka, Ranasinghe Premadasa, began supporting LTTE and funded LTTE with arms.


The Indo-Sri Lankan Accord, which had been unpopular amongst Sri Lankans for giving India a major influence, now, became a source of nationalist anger and resentment as the IPKF was drawn fully into the conflict. Sri Lankans protested the presence of the IPKF, and the newly elected Sri Lankan president Ranasinghe Premadasa demanded its withdrawal, which was completed by March 1990.on May 21, 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated and the LTTE was alleged to be the perpetrator. As a result India declared the LTTE to be a terrorist outfit in 1992.


There have been several alleged incidents of Sri Lankan Navy personnel firing on Indian fishermen fishing in the Palk Strait, where India and Sri Lanka are only separated by 12 nautical miles. The issue is because of Indian fishermen using mechanised trawlers which deprive the Sri Lankan fishermen including Tamils of their catch and also damaging their fishing boats. The Sri Lankan government wants India to ban use of mechanized trawlers in the Palk Strait region and the negotiations on the same are going on.


Indian exports account for 14% of Sri Lanka’s global imports. India is also the fifth largest export destination for Sri Lankan goods, accounting for 3.6% of its exports. Both nations are also signatories of the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA).


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