Northern fisherfolk in deeply troubled watersView(s):
Today begins the week-long festival at Kachchativu, the once contested islet off the coast of Jaffna, now firmly ensconced in Sri Lanka’s territorial waters.
The annual feast of St. Anthony in the church there enjoys a long tradition as an occasion when seafarers from both India and Sri Lanka together with their families mingle. After a 1974 agreement between India and Sri Lanka, Indian fishermen were granted visa-free access to attend the festival.
The parochial politicians from the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu were not happy with this agreement and have, for years, raised issue and made a claim, especially when their elections are round the corner in the mistaken belief that Kachchativu was “gifted” or “ceded” to Sri Lanka. That is furthest from the truth.
Kachchativu was at no time the property of India. New Delhi, however, made a claim for it in the post-Independence years of both nations, but once the then erudite officials of the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence and External Affairs backed by their political leaders from all sides, clinically proved their case to their Indian counterparts, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi signed, sealed and delivered an agreement to define the maritime boundaries between India and Sri Lanka. Thus, Kachchativu fell squarely onto the Sri Lankan side of the waters.
The habit of Indian fishermen intruding into Sri Lankan waters, other than for illicit immigration and smuggling began during the northern insurgency in Sri Lanka when they were used by the LTTE to bring in weapons, oil and other items from India to the north of Sri Lanka and ferry injured cadres to safe havens in Tamil Nadu. But, they were afraid to fish in these troubled waters because of the Sri Lanka Navy patrols.
Of late, however, with the ‘war’ over, India has started actively tinkering with the 1974 agreement on the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) and both, covertly and overtly, has encouraged its fishermen to poach with impunity on Sri Lankan waters. Thousands of Indian trawlers blatantly intrude between midnight and dawn to fish here.
To add insult to injury, the Tamil Nadu politicians have the temerity to speak of the hardships caused to Sri Lankans living in the north. A mid-sea protest had been organised for today by the pro-government EPDP in these waters, while the pro-Indian TNA maintains a deafening silence. But EPDP leader and Minister yesterday announced clearly under intense Indian pessure that the protest had been put off for one month and said he hoped poaching would cease by then.
Negotiations between India and Sri Lanka have veered away from the 1974 agreement and India cleverly exploited both the insurgency and the naiveté of the Sri Lankan side to work out an agreement in October 2008 that, for the first time, defined a ‘grey area’ within Sri Lankan waters. Most recently, India obtained an agreement to ensure the Sri Lanka Navy did not open fire in the face of unmitigated poaching.
A Joint Working Group keeps talking and fishermen’s unions have been tasked to find solutions in what is a patent bid to delay a solution. What must Sri Lankan political leaders and diplomats of yore think of their weak-kneed successors who have wilted under pressure and given the Indian poachers carte blanche to steal fish at will?
Save free education: Govt. cannot pass the buck
It took a 13-year-old schoolgirl from a village in Horana — who allegedly stole coconuts supposedly to pay for a donation to her school — to showcase the plight of hundreds of schools that cannot fend for themselves with the meagre funds allocated to them by the State, and the thousands of parents who cannot afford “free education” for their children.
“School Development Societies” established by a 2008 circular have become the licence for school authorities to collect funds from parents across the board, irrespective of their income. It happens in the best of colleges and the humblest of vidyalayas across the country. Twinned with the need for private tuition to supplement what is taught (and not taught) in schools, the proud heritage of ‘free education’ is falling by the wayside.
Education is something that is valued by all parents who dream of a better future for their children. They place a high premium on it, yet it is neither free nor even cheap. Someone has to pick up the tab at the end of the day, and if the Government cannot afford to do so, it falls on the parents, even if their pockets are as empty as that of the State’s coffers.
Whether the Government cannot afford to raise its contribution to 6% of the country’s budget – as demanded by the Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA) is arguable in the face of budgetary problems that have surfaced in the public domain recently when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation was in town. Whether the Government is managing its finances prudently is another matter, especially given that questions are raised from its own ranks.
For the Minister of Education to say that no parent is “forced” to make donations means he is not living in the real world. Parents will beg, borrow or steal to see to their children’s schooling, but fixing the problem is squarely the responsibility of the Government. When the Government cannot even pay the utility bills of schools, extra-curricular activities are the lowest priority.
There is no quick-fix solution to this perennial problem. Like the Grade 5 scholarship examinations that opened the doors for bright children throughout the country to enter the big colleges and enjoy the opportunities to realise their potential, it is up to the Treasury and no one else to see that finances of the State can match the goals of free education this country so proudly boasts of. That is a sacred trust it must fulfil for the future of the country. It cannot ‘pass the buck’, so to say.
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