Fisheries row: India not ready for joint patrolling

By Chris Kamalendran

India has disagreed to Sri Lanka’s proposal for joint patrolling of the International Maritime Boundary (IMB) that separates the two countries as a stringent measure to avoid poaching by fishermen in each other’s territorial waters.

This was one of the proposals made during the recent talks of the Joint Working Group (JWG) on Fisheries. India refused to conform to its adherence to the IMB Line in the joint statement issued by the JWG at the conclusion of talks in Colombo last week.

Fisheries Ministry Director General Indra Ranasinghe confirmed that the two sides failed to reach agreement on the three key issues proposed by Sri Lanka for joint patrolling, adherence to the IMB and monitoring encroachment by either side. “India has asked for more time to study the proposals,” he said.
Last week the Sunday Times city edition quoting the joint statement of the JWG reported that India and Sri Lanka failed to reach an MOU on the fisheries issue.

Last Sunday, the Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement contradicting media reports on the outcome of the JWG negotiations. The Sunday Times learns that this came following certain remarks made by Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratna to the

BBC Sinhala and Tamil Services where he said “in all previous joint communiqués it was stated that India has a traditional fishing right in Sri Lankan waters, but our agreement was that something that was agreed since the 60s cannot be regarded as a traditional right because it was in 1976 that the international maritime boundaries were laid down.”

He also said the agreement was a victory for Sri Lanka’s fishing industry. The BBC headlined the story saying “India drops traditional fishing rights in Lanka.”The Ministry of External Affairs was quick to squash this version of the negotiations with India stating; “While maintaining their respective positions, including on the issue of traditional fishing rights, both sides expressed the genuine desire of their governments to enhance cooperation that would allow the fishermen of the two countries to pursue their fishing activity in a safe, secure and sustainable manner.

“It was agreed to continue discussions, with the objective of arriving at a holistic solution that would take into account the aspects of safety and security, resource sustainability, ecological conservation and livelihood sustenance. Towards this end, the two sides agreed to work towards conclusion of the Memorandum of Understanding on Development and Cooperation in the Field of Fisheries at the earliest.

“The Government of Sri Lanka is fully committed to working towards fulfilling the mandate of the Joint Working Group to address issues relating to cooperation in the fisheries sector between the two countries.” The Sri Lankan delegation was led by External Affairs Ministry’s Additional Secretary Kshenuka Senewiratne while the Indian delegation was led by External Affairs Ministry Joint Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla.

The 11-member Indian delegation also included representatives from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and a host of state agencies, including the Indian Coast Guard.

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