Sri Lanka has assured early release of the captured Indian fishermen who strayed across the international boundary, even as it claimed that there was “deliberate” misbehaviour by the fishermen who rammed a Sri Lankan naval boat.
According to reports from Tamil Nadu, the Indian fishermen were captured yesterday by the Sri Lankan navy, who also attacked their boats near Katchatheevu in the Palk Strait. They were produced before a judicial magistrate in Mannar and remanded to custody till August 6.
But, the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to India, Prasad Kariyawasam said that the Indian fishermen may return home earlier than August 6.
“We are trying to get the Indian fishermen released earlier by expediting the process, due to our good relations with India and desire to treat the Indian fishermen in a humane manner,” Kariyawasam told Express.
Earlier in the day, the external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said that the Indian consul general in Jaffna had gone to Mannar to meet the Indian fishermen in custody. “All are reportedly in good health,” he said. The Indian high commissioner Ashok Kantha had also taken up the matter in Colombo.
According to Kariyawasam, the fishermen as well as five confiscated trawlers were caught three nautical miles off the Mannar coast, which was well inside Sri Lankan territorial waters.
“This arrest was made due to the misbehaviour of one of the trawlers, which behaved threateningly to navy patrol boats,” said the Sri Lankan envoy.
He added that usually Indian fishermen caught by the SL navy were released “in one or two days”, but the longer custody this time was due to the damage suffered by the Lankan naval vessel. “It was damaged when one of the trawlers hit the naval boat... we believe it was deliberate,” he said.
The release of the fishermen could happen earlier, as the government planned to move a motion in the court, following which the SL navy would have to give its no-objection certificate. The envoy said there were plans for another meeting of fishermen’s associations from India and Sri Lanka, to find ways to stop the problem.
Sri Lanka has complained that Indian trawlers - due to the depleted fish stocks in Indian waters - have been repeatedly poaching in Sri Lankan waters. Earlier, during the civil war, the fishing industry in northern SL was totally destroyed, but it has revived since 2008. “The complaints are coming from the Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen about Indian fishermen poaching in their waters,” said Kariyawasam.
He noted that while Indian fishermen are released early, there were still Sri Lankan fishermen languishing in custody in India due to the slow legal process of various states. “In Orissa, there are nine Sri Lankan fishermen who have been in custody for three to four months,” said the ambassador.