CHENNAI: Taking strong exception to the announcement of two Sri Lankan ministers that the fishing boats and gear of Tamil Nadu fishermen which had been under Lankan custody for a long time would be made property of the island government, chief minister O Panneerselvam on Monday sought the intervention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for sorting out this sensitive issue which had caused anxiety among the fishermen in Tamilnadu.
"I strongly urge the Government of India to register its disapproval of such remarks in the strongest possible terms at the appropriate level. Such statements just before inter ministerial level talks of the two countries will certainly vitiate the atmosphere before the talks," the chief minister said in his letter to the Prime Minister.
Expressing deep anguish at the very unfortunate and needlessly provocative remarks of the Lankan ministers, the chief minister said this unfortunate development had come at a time when the India-Lanka Joint Working Group on Fisheries met in New Delhi on December 31, and was due to meet again on the sidelines of the ministerial meeting at Colombo on Monday.
"Lankan ministers' statements are especially alarming when Indian fishermen, have come forward with an accommodative frame of mind, to find a resolution to this long pending sensitive livelihood issue. Former chief minister J Jayalalithaa had repeatedly brought to your personal attention our concerns over the Sri Lankan government’s strategy of delaying the release of the boats and fishing gear of our fishermen which caused great loss of livelihood to our fishermen and their families," he added.
Stating that as till date, 114 fishing boats of Tamil Nadu fishermen were in Lankan custody, the chief minister pointed out that that 80 fishing boats of fishermen from Tamil Nadu apprehended by Lankan Navy during the year 2014 were released only in 2015. "Out of these 80 boats, apart from the 2 boats which had sunk at the time of apprehension, 16 boats are damaged beyond salvage, 31 sustained major damages, and 33 boats sustained minor damages. This has inflicted heavy financial losses on the fishermen of Tamil Nadu," he said and urged the Centre to take steps to rescue 51 fishermen who were still in Lankan custody.
"This is not the first time that such reports are appearing and on an earlier occasion on Apart 1, 2016, Lankan minister for fisheries, Mahinda Amaraweera said Lanka had approached the competent Courts for permission to give away the fishing boats and gear of Tamil Nadu fishermen to the fishermen of Northern Sri Lanka and to scrap and auction the boats which are unusable," Panneerselvam recalled.
He said such unfortunate and provocative statements were clearly veiled threats to intimidate Tamilnadu fishermen from exercising their traditional fishing rights in the Palk Bay which they have done for centuries. Such statements appear to mock the diplomatic efforts being undertaken by the Government of India to sort out the sensitive issue.
Panneerselvam urged the Centre to take steps to ensure that the boats and fishing gear of Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan custody were returned to the Tamil Nadu fishermen in a refurbished condition at the earliest.