NEW DELHI: Sri Lanka has released 536 of the 541 Indian fishermen from its custody after they were arrested while fishing in the high seas and this was made possible through the Central government’s continuous efforts, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley informed the Lok Sabha on Friday.
In a written reply to members’ question on the matter, Jaitley also informed the house that in 2013, Indian government had secured the release of all 676 Indian fishermen arrested by Sri Lanka.
“From time to time, there are reports of incidents of attack on Indian fishermen, allegedly by the Sri Lankan Navy. The government has been consistently taking up such issues with the government of Sri Lanka to ensure that the Sri Lankan Navy acts with restraint and our fishermen found in the Sri Lankan waters are treated in a humane manner,” the Defence Minister said.
In order to avoid recurrence of incidents involving Indian fishermen and keeping in mind the humanitarian and livelihood dimensions of fishermen issues, the Indian government had reached an understanding with the Sri Lankan government in October 2008 to put in place practical arrangements to deal with bonafide Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL).
As part of these arrangements, it has been agreed that there would be no firing on Indian fishing vessels and that Indian fishing vessels would not enter the sensitive areas designated by the government of Sri Lanka along its coastline.
“The (Indian) government, as a result of its continuous efforts, has secured the release of all 676 Indian fishermen arrested in 2013 and 536 Indian fishermen (out of 541 arrested till July 18) from the custody of Sri Lanka,” Jaitley said.
An India-Sri Lanka Joint Working Group (JWG) to deal with issues relating to straying fishermen, work out modalities for prevention of use of force against them, the early release of confiscated boats and to explore possibilities of working towards a bilateral agreement for licensed fishing has been established since 2004.
Additionally, in 2014, two rounds of talks between
Indian and Sri Lankan Fishermen’s Associations took place in Chennai on January 27 and Colombo on May 12 towards resolution of the issue.
“It is as a result of government’s efforts that no cases of deaths of Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan waters have been reported since April 2011,” Jaitley said.
The Indian Coast Guard provides assistance to Indian fishermen at sea while they are in distress through regular patrolling. It also conducts Community Interaction Programmes to educate fishermen among other issues, on the perils of cross border fishing. For better accessibility, the Coast Guard has provided a toll free telephone number 1554 for search and rescue assistance to fishermen at sea.