Problems of fisherman of Tamil Nadu straying in the Sri Lankan waters
Recently accusation are being continuously leveled by Tamil Nadu fishermen, who use to stray into the Sri Lankan waters, about they being harassed, assaulted, shot at and chased by the Sri Lankan Navy.
As the accusations of the Tamil Nadu fishermen continues unabatedly, Asian Tribune contacted U. Arulanandam, Tamil Nadu President of Alliance for Release of Innocent Fishermen (ARIF), for his comments and observations.
Asian Tribune also pointed out the statement made by S.M.Krishna in the floor of the Lok Sabah on 27 August, “Hon’ble Members also referred to fishing rights for Indian fishermen at Kachchativu Island. I wish to bring to the attention of the august House that our fishermen have access to visit the Island for rest, for drying of nets and for the annual St. Anthony’s Festival, and that the rights do not cover fishing around Kachchativu Island.”
Indian External Affairs Minister also added, “I would like to inform this august House that almost all instances of arrest and harassment of our fishermen seem to have occurred in Sri Lankan waters, when our fishermen stray across the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL).”
These statements of the Indian Minister of External Affairs clearly indicate the undisciplined nature of the Tamil Nadu fishermen and Tamil Nadu Government’s unprincipled approach to maintain law and order in the state.
Given below excerpts of the interview with U. Arulanandam, Tamil Nadu President of Alliance for Release of Innocent Fishermen (ARIF):
Asian Tribune: Recently when the External Affairs Minister making a statement in the floor of Lok Sabah, Indian Parliament), said that Tamil Fishermen from Tamil Nadu has no right to fish around the isle of Katchativu. “Hon’ble Members also referred to fishing rights for Indian fishermen at Kachchativu Island.
I wish to bring to the attention of the august House that our fishermen have access to visit the Island for rest, for drying of nets and for the annual St. Anthony’s Festival, and that the rights do not cover fishing around Kachchativu Island” External Affairs Minister clarifies India’s position regarding Sri Lankan Tamil’s issues
U. Arulanantham: Yes he has made such a statement.
Asian Tribune: What is your opinion about such a statement by the India’s Minister of External Affairs?
U. Arulanantham: Yes the fishing rights of the Tamil Nadu fishermen is not in the Agreement. The Agreement was entered between the India and Sri Lanka Governments. After the gaining independence, both governments have come up with such an agreement. These agreements were entered in 1974 and 1976.
We are not aware of such agreement. But our fishermen, Indo - Lankan fishermen are involved in fishing in that narrow sea strip for several hundred years and we were in such practice historically.
Therefore both governments should have invited those fishermen who were historically involved in fishing and discussed with them.
It was a mistake on the part of both governments entering into an agreement without listening to the views of those fishermen who were involved in fishing historically.
Even I can cite another example that according to the international perspective the earlier agreement in 1964 between Lal Bahdur Shastri and Srimavo Bandaranaike is criticized as an agreement entered about beasts and not about human beings.
Similarly, we consider the two maritime agreements entered between the two countries are being considered by us as another agreement similar to that Srimavo - Shastri agreement which treated people as beast as criticized by the international community.
Therefore, we are not prepared to accept those agreements as stated.
Even though, even after the 1976 agreement they are unable to stop the fishing rights of the Tamil Nadu fishermen. Anyhow, there is an inherent true element that due to this activity, Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen are being affected.
We are duty bound to give recognition to this stark reality and we have invited those fishermen representatives more than two or three times and had discussions with them.
If our discussions have to succeed, both governments must come forward to implement our decisions. If the Lanka Indian Governments come forward to adopt correct and acceptable actions only, this issue would be sorted out.
It must be remembered that wherever the fish moves, the fishermen will also go after it. Wherever there is fish, the fishermen will be also there, in that particular location.
This is a hunting field. There are no stipulations and conditions for those involved in hunting. They can hunt anywhere they want.
The fishermen are only after fish and up to date not a single fishermen has been arrested on an allegation that they were involved in any smuggling activities or they were in possession of any weapons and none of them are in jails for such crimes in any prisons.
Fishermen are being arrested for straying into other country’s territorial waters and subsequently they are being released.
Asian Tribune: But hundreds of Sri Lankan fishermen are still languishing in Indian jails without being released?
U Arulanandam: They are not in any jails in Tamil Nadu. They must be in the jails in Orissa, Andhra and in Andaman Nicobar. But there are no Sri Lankan fishermen detained in Tamil Nadu and no Tamil Nadu fishermen held in Sri Lanka. These matters come under the purview of the External Affairs Ministries of Sri Lanka and India. They must come up with ways to tackle those fishermen arrested and jailed beyond the borders of the State of Tamil Nadu.
Asian Tribune: I wish to state that the agreement that was finally entered in 1976 was not about the fisher folks or about Katchativu, but it is all about the maritime boundaries of the two countries. Regarding the matter of maritime boundary, there are two aspects – my country’s boundary and your country’s boundary. When defining the maritime boundary Katchativu has fallen within the maritime boundary of Sri Lanka.
U Arulanandam: Yes .. yes, it falls two kilometers inside Sri Lankan boundary.
Asian Tribune: Under this circumstance, I wish to point out something said by the Indian External Affairs Minister in his speech in the Lok Sabah. There is no room in the 1976, final maritime boundary agreement, for nets to be dried up, or participating in the St. Anthony Church Feast by the Indian fishermen.
U. Arulanantham: There is provision in the 1976 agreement …
Asian Tribune: This provision is only found in the 1974 Agreement.
U.Arulanantham: So you mean to say that there is no provisions in the 1976 Agreement for the Indian fishermen to visit Katchativu to rest, dry their nets and also to participate in the annual St. Anthony’s Church Festival?
Asian Tribune: There is no provisions. Only you have such provisions in the 1974 Agreement, but the 1976 Agreement supersedes the 1974 Agreement.
It must be remembered that Army, Navy and Air force are in a country to protect that country. Therefore, when somebody trespasses into the territorial waters of Sri Lanka, then , Sri Lanka Navy which is a state organ meant to safeguard Sri Lanka’s territorial waters, will arrest such persons for trespassing and also for poaching.
U. Arulananthan: Yes I agree. But those persons trespassing should be treated humanely.
Asian Tribune: Whenever Tamil Nadu fishermen were confronted and chased away or arrested, it has become the usual ploy of the fishermen to allege that Sri Lankan Navy – to sensationalize, as they say ‘Sinhala Navy’ harassed them, assaulted them, deliberately treated them inhumanly, are the usual allegations the Tamil Nadu fishermen use to make. We are of the opinion, as you said earlier Government leaders of both countries should meet and discuss these issues.
It is unfortunate that the Tamil Nadu Government never take any follow up action against those persons who are released from Sri Lanka. This means that Tamil Nadu Government condone trespassing and encourage illegal acts. There has to be provisions in the country’s laws that those willfully trespasses into Sri Lankan waters, that person has to be tried and punished by any courts in Tamil Nadu for wilfully tresspassing into another country's borders, even after they are released by the Sri Lanka Government on the request of the Central Government of India.
U. Aruklanantham: Yes, you may have a point, but the concerned leaders should speak.
Asian Tribune: I wish to bring to your notice, recently when I was in touch with Sri Lanka’s Fisheries Minister Dr. Rajith Senaratne, he said that no one has the right to fish in Sri Lankan Territorial Waters. Because he said this sea is the only place for Sri Lankan fishermen to fish. He said, when viewing at the satellite pictures, nearly 600 to 1000 fishing boats which begins to set sail daily from Rameswaram and other southern fishing harbors, are seen coming straight into the Sri Lankan territorial waters. They come even very closer to point Pedro, Jaffna, Delft Islands to fish. This is poaching and overexploiting of the fishing grounds of Sri Lanka. But Indian medias are purposely making it an issue.
If distorted versions continued and allowed to be spread, it might endanger the friendly relationship India enjoys with Sri Lanka. Therefore kindly be warned of the serious consequences in the future.
U. Arulanantham: It is unfortunate that the political leaders are not fully aware of these issues.
Asian Tribune: In anywhere in the world the understandings of the political leaders are all based on votes and not on rhyme or reasons.
Arulanantham: Yeah ..
Asian Tribune: But Tamil Nadu Chief Minister when making a statement for the first time, she very clearly said, “The Tamil Nadu Fishermen strayed into the Sri Lankan Waters.” She used this word initially, but subsequently she refrained from using such word - Straying. Therefore you people who are leaders of fishermen associations … What are you all planning to do to break this deadlock?
U. Arulanantham : For us so far, Indian Government has not given any alternative solution to this issue. I think it is high time that Indian and Sri Lankan Government should meet, discuss and find an acceptable solution to the issue of the Indian fishermen. This is a very narrow stretch of sea and the Adams bridge is preventing us from going to the other side for fishing. Therefore for the fishermen living in this Palk Bay, no alternate step has been so far provided by the Indian Government.
Asian Tribune: Mr. Arulanandam, you are from which area in Tamil Nadu?
U. Arulanantham: I am from Rameswaram.
Asian Tribune: At this point of time I wish to reveal one fact to you.
U. Arulanantham: Tell me.
Asian Tribune: As Katchativu which is an integral part of Sri Lanka, Rameswaram during the Ramayana days was also an integral part of Sri Lanka.
Ramayana clearly reveals that a big part of South India was under the suzerainty of Ravanan the Tamil king of Lanka.
We will discuss this issue some other time.
- Asian Tribune -