NEW DELHI: Central government accords the highest priority to promote the well-being, safety and security of Indian fishermen and have strongly conveyed to Sri Lanka that the use of force cannot be justified under any circumstances, said External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
Making a statement in Rajya Sabha on the killing of Indian fisherman allegedly by Sri Lankan Navy in Palk Bay on March 6, Swaraj said the government through diplomatic channels, has consistently taken up issues relating to apprehension of fishermen with the Sri Lanka to ensure that Indian fishermen are treated in a humane manner.
“The Sri Lankan side has, however, denied the involvement of their Navy in the firing incident. Our High Commissioner personally spoke to Sri Lankan Prime Minister and Navy Commander on this matter. The Sri Lankan Government has further reassured us that all possible action will be taken in cooperation with the relevant Indian authorities to investigate the incident,” she said.
Assuring to pursue the matter with the Sri Lankan Government, the minister said that the matter is essentially humanitarian in nature, involving the livelihood and socio-economic practices of Indian fishermen community.
She said that several meetings were held in past few months to discuss the issue in a comprehensive manner.
Explaining the efforts being made, Swaraj said that an agreement was reached at the meeting to set up a Joint Working Group (JWG) on Fisheries as a bilateral institutional mechanism to help find a permanent solution to all fishermen issues.
“The government, as a result of its consistent efforts, has secured release of 1045 Indian fishermen, in custody of Sri Lanka in 2014, 375 fishermen in 2015, 333 fishermen in 2016 and 51 fishermen in 2017. While 85 Indian fishermen along with 136 fishing vessels were in custody of Sri Lanka, I am glad to inform the House that all the fishermen have since been released. We are also pursuing the release of the fishing boats in Sri Lankan custody,” said informed the house.
The minister further said that Centre is engaged with Sri Lanka to ensure that the rights of the detained Indian nationals are protected and that the fishermen on both sides can continue to pursue their livelihood in a safe, secure and sustainable.