Sri Lanka arrests Indian fishermen, again!
-Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal
Even as India and Sri Lanka are engaged in talks to resolve the issue of fishing by Indian Tamil Fishermen near Katchatheevu, Sri Lankan Navy has arrested some more Indian fishermen for allegedly poaching in Lankan sea waters, indirectly complicating the matter as Tamil Nadu government is annoyed about the arrests.
Days after Sri Lanka had released some 86 Indian fishermen as a goodwill gesture on the eve of the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the first Indian leader to visit Sri Lanka since 1987, as many as 54 Indian fishermen have been arrested on the match 21, by the Sri Lankan Navy for fishing in island’s waters off the coast of Kankesanturai and Talaimannar in the north.
The arrests came ahead of announcement of the dates for the direct fisher community talks between India and Sri Lanka. Indian fishermen claim they have traditionally been fishing there. Katchatheevu is now under Sri Lanka as India had leased it to its sea neighbor long ago.
PTI reported that the fishermen from Rameswaram were taken into custody by the Sri Lankan Navy while they were fishing near Katchatheevu. The fishermen, who went out to sea Saturday (21) morning, were fishing near Katchatheevu in five boats when the Sri Lankan Navy personnel took them into custody around 8.30 pm on Saturday, fisheries department sources and fishermen association said.
Sri Lankan Naval spokesman Commander Indika Silva said that 21 fishermen were arrested and five boats were seized at Kankesanturai while the rest of them on another five boats were arrested at Talaimannar on Saturday night. They were being brought to respective fisheries inspection offices for further action, Silva said. Quoting information received by him from the arrested fishermen, Rameswaram Fishermen Association President S. Emerit said they had been taken to Thalaimannar in northern Sri Lanka along with the five boats.
In the meantime, India and Sri Lanka had agreed to release the fishermen and boats simultaneously. Recently, 43 fishermen and 34 boats were repatriated to India. India has also released Lankan fishermen who were in its custody and so as on date, there are no Indian fishermen in custody of Lanka, though 50 Indian boats remain to be repatriated.
The arrest comes ahead of the third round of talks between the representatives of fishermen associations of the two countries slated in Chennai on March 24 and 25 on the contentious issue of fishing rights in the Palk Strait and Palk Bay.
Representatives of the fishermen’s associations in Sri Lanka and India met previously on two occasions last year – first on January 27 in Chennai and later on May 12 in Colombo – to find out a solution to share the resources in the seas between the two countries. However, these talks had failed to resolve the issues.
Meanwhile, a team, comprising 10 leaders of fishermen and nine officials from Sri Lanka, will be participating in the talks between the fishermen’s associations of Sri Lanka and India to be held in Chennai on March 24 and 25, officials said. This will be the third time the fishermen’s associations of the two countries are meeting to thrash out the issue of fishing in the Palk Strait and Palk Bay.
While Sri Lankan fishermen have been complaining about brazen poaching with bottom trawlers by fishermen from Tamil Nadu and Puduchery, Indian fishermen have been claiming that they have a “traditional right” to fish in these waters and that Sri Lankan fishermen should see it as a livelihood and humanitarian issue.
Recently, Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had said in two media interviews that Lanka has the right to shoot intruders, an assertion which raised political hackles in India. One does not know if India is testing the validity of the SL PM’s assertion.
Terming as “disconcerting and shocking” the arrest of 54 state fishermen by Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam today wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying it could undermine the bilateral fishermen-level talks to be held this week between the two countries. Seeking Modi’s personal intervention for setting free the fishermen, Panneerselvam said in a letter to him that the talks would be meaningful only if the fishermen and their boats were released.
The issue should not be further precipitated. It is high time India and Sri Lanka fixed the problem at the earliest through committed negotiations and mutual understanding.