Leaders of North Sri Lankan fishermen are likely to approach the Human Rights Council of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) and the courts in a stepped-up effort to stop Indian fishermen from poaching in Lankan waters.
This was the outcome of a meeting of fishermen’s organisations held here on March 7, said NM Alam of the Mannar-based Union of Fishermen’s Co-operatives.
“Indian fishermen have been brazenly violating the January 27 pledge, not to poach in Lankan waters, using bottom trawlers between February 13 and March 13. The Lankan policy of arresting and releasing the intruders has not deterred poaching,” Alam told Express on Sunday.
“We will be consulting our lawyers this week. As a first step, we will approach the HRCSL. Indian fishermen are taking away our right to fish and thereby denying us the right to live. They should be made to go through the legal process, without any governmental or political interference,” Alam said.
“Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne tells us that he will not allow Indians to fish across the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) but he tells BBC that he will not object, if the Indian and Lankan fishermen agree to jointly fish in the Palk Bay,” Alam said pointing to a lack of policy.
Significantly, fishermen from Jaffna kept quiet at the meeting. One of them confided that they did not want to disrupt the March 13 meeting with Indian fishermen in Colombo.
Dr Steve Creech, a consultant on fisheries, told the media that the fishermen will be released but their boats will be detained till the owners pay a fine. “Keeping fishermen incarcerated for a long time becomes a major human, political and bilateral problem but the boats could be detained. After the 1976 agreement, there is no case for fishing across the IMBL,” he said.
Debunking the claim that Indian fishermen traditionally fished all over Palk Bay, Creech said: “They never ventured beyond five kms from the shore as they had no means to do so.”