Sri Lankan authorities are to seek an urgent meeting with a top Indian Minister over the festering fishing dispute across the Palk Strait, while the SL Navy reacted angrily to recent allegations made in Chennai that it had ill-treated fishermen from that country. The move by the Government comes days after more Sri Lankan fishermen were arrested by the Indian Coast Guard during the course of this week after they strayed into that country’s territorial waters, Fisheries Secretary, Dr. Dammitha de Soyza told the Sunday Times yesterday.
A total of 21 local fishermen and six trawlers were apprehended by the Indian authorities in separate incidents on Monday and Wednesday this week, bringing the present number of Sri Lankans fishermen in Indian custody to 74.
“We need to talk urgently with the Indian Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Sharad Pawar in this connection and Colombo is hopeful that a meeting could be arranged at the earliest.
We have already been informed that Minister Pawar has expressed his willingness to visit Sri Lanka in this regard and that he had even informed the Indian High Commission towards this end,” Dr. de Soyza said.
She also cautioned that both sides involved in fishing must respect each country’s International Maritime Boundaries (IMBs) at all times in a bid to avoid confrontation. “In the case of the Sri Lankan fishermen the numbers are very small when compared with those from the other side that number in the thousands who plunder the local marine resources on a daily basis.
This continues to be a serious issue that is blown out of proportion by regional politicians in India who use it as means to enhance their political ambitions,” Dr. de Soyza added.
Meanwhile the SL Navy yesterday expressed deep concern at allegations made across the Palk Strait that it ill-treats Indian fishermen.
“None of these allegations have been supported with credible proof, but are made merely on hearsay and with ill-intention aimed at straining the good relations shared between the two countries.
For our part, we have on numerous occasions rescued Indian fishermen found in distress and provided them with assistance from machinery, to food, water and even in some instances accommodation,” a senior naval officer said.
Human chain to register protest
Local fishermen groups are set to form a human chain on the coast of Mannar at the beginning of next week to draw attention to the fishing issues and the continuing arrests of locals by the Indian Coast Guard. Dinesh
Fernando with the All Ceylon Fisher Folk Trade Union (ACFFTU) told the Sunday Times that several thousands fishermen from some 33 organisations are expected to take part in this campaign that is listed for August 8.
“Our people are being held in Indian jails under extremely poor conditions while the fishermen from that country have a practical free run to plunder the resources on this side of the Palk Strait,” he said.