NEW DELHI: On the day when Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa arrived in India, Lok Sabha discussed the issue of Indian fishermen being arrested by the Lankan army.
AIADMK members raised the issue saying brutal and violent attacks Indian fishermen were on the rise and demanded the government to bring a bill to retrieve Katchatheevu island from Sri Lanka so that the issue could be resolved forever.
External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj replying to the calling attention motion in the lower house on the issue said the government was making full efforts for the release of the 38 fishermen, who were still Lankan custody.
She said after the government’s engagement with Lanka, there has been a change in tone and tenor of the neighbouring country.
She referred to the recent remission of death sentence of five Tamil fishermen and even return of some fishermen stranded in Lankan waters after their boat was shattered.
Swaraj said as the matter of Katchatheev was subjudice she would not comment on it.
Senior AIADMK leader Thambidurai countered this saying,”You cannot just say that the matter is before the Supreme Court. Parliament is supreme. How can we not discuss the issue? It is part and parcel of the Indian territory. When the agreement (with Sri Lanka in 1970s) had taken place, rules and regulations were not followed strictly.”
He further argued that when the government was bringing a bill in Parliament to give some areas to Bangladesh, then why not bring such a bill in Parliament on Katchatheevu too.
Thambidurai added that the five fishermen, who were facing death sentence, were released by the Sri Lankan leadership because they were going for fresh elections and wanted Tamil votes.
To solve the problem of Indian fishermen straying out of Indian waters, the government was working on a proposal to develop a National Automatic Identification System for effective tracking of small fishing vessels fitted with customised AIS transponders, the Minister said.
Earlier participating in the discussion, AIADMK member P Venugopal said, “The highhandedness of the Sri Lankan navy with brutal and violent attacks on Indian fishermen on the high seas around our coastal areas of Tamil Nadu are on the increase. It has become a sad tale continuing unabated. The small boats and trawlers are captured and are taken away by the Sri Lankan Navy personnel every now and then.”
He added there have been 500 such attacks and 50 instances of capturing of boats by the forces of the island nation.
Another AIADMK member K Gopal sought abrogation of the 1974 and 1976 India-Sri Lanka agreements on Katchatheevu, P Kumar and J Jayavardhan (both AIADMK) said the Centre had not granted any financial help to the five fishermen who were awarded death sentence by the Lankan court, though the Tamil Nadu government provided a total of over `63 lakh for their legal expenses.
In response, Swaraj said while it was acknowledged that the state government paid the legal expenses, “but despite this, they were given the death penalty.”
“It was our efforts at the highest levels that the death sentence was commuted,” the Minister added.