Despite hopes raised by the meeting of the Foreign and Fisheries Ministers of India and Sri Lanka in New Delhi on November 5, the issue of Tamil Nadu fi shermen poaching in Sri Lankan waters and getting arrested or beaten up, continues.
Apparently, no steps have been taken by India to provide the fi shermen with an alternative to bottom trawling in the Palk Strait, or secure the release of 105 trawlers, now in Sri Lankan custody. With each costing `25 lakh, the detention is hitting huge numbers of Tamil fi shermen economically.
As per the India-Sri Lanka communiqué issued on November 5, the Joint Working Group of Fisheries will meet every three months; the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Fisheries will meet every six months, and the fi shermen’s associations will also meet every six months. India had agreed to “consider” the Sri Lankan proposal for joint naval patrolling of the Palk Strait.
To curb destructive bottom trawling, India promised to expedite a transition to deep sea fi shing. But like the past agreements, the devil will be in implementation. With Indian fi shermen having no immediate alternative to fi shing in Sri Lankan waters, they will continue to cross the International Maritime Boundary Line. New Delhi is unlikely to use force if there is joint patrolling, and Colombo will be dismayed.
Indian fi shermen have been unsuccessfully pleading for 85 days of fi shing in a year as an interim measure to allow the transition from bottom trawling. Lankan fi shermen say that experience shows that Tamil fi shermen do not keep their word. To help transition to deep sea fishing, New Delhi’ fi nancial help is essential. TN had asked the Centre for `9750 million over three years, a request which is yet to be met. Things don’t look good for Indian fi shermen with the Sri Lankan government considering imposing fi nes up to `7 crore on vessels entering its waters illegally. Prospects of a resolution of the fi shing issue look dim indeed.