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India's SC request small consolation to Northern fishermen

2013 Oct 31

Chamikara Weerasinghe

The Indian Supreme Court asking Tamil Nadu fishermen whether it was possible for them to know at which point to stop without entering Sri Lanka's territorial waters is a small consolation for the fishermen of Northern Sri Lanka whose fishing harvests are being stolen by Tamil Nadu fishermen on a daily basis, Deputy Fisheries Minister Sarath Kumara Gunaratne said.

He was referring to an Indian Supreme Bench headed by Chief Justice P. Sathasivam asking whether it is possible for the fishermen from Tamil Nadu to know exactly where to stop while fishing in the seas so that they do not stray into the territorial waters of Sri Lanka.

"In that case why is it that the Indian Coast Guard operate in their seas and arrest foreign fishermen, including Sri Lankan fishermen, who stray into their territorial waters ?" asked the deputy minister.

"They seized four Sri Lankan fishing boats on October 29 after they were found in their territorial waters. The fishermen were not fishing. They were returning home after fishing in international waters, not territorial waters. But they were arrested," Gunaratne said.

"I am speaking to your newspaper even as we , myself and Foreign Ministry officials, are discussing this matter. The families of these fishermen are also with us," he said.

"We respect the international law on delimitation of maritime boundaries," he said. "About 4,000 to 5,000 Indian trawlers illegally enter Sri Lankan waters on a daily basis as a practice. Fishermen in these trawlers take away tonnes of fish from Sri Lankan waters polluting and damaging the sea environment with internationally banned fishing gear and bottom trawling," he said.

"It is not only the law of the sea that is being violated by this illegal activity by the Indian fishermen, but is a gross violation of human rights of the fishermen in the North, whose right to livelihood, has been gravely affected by this situation of Tamil Nadu fishermen crossing over to Sri Lankan territorial waters and taking away those fish, which would otherwise have been the property of the local fishermen," he said. " Tamil Nadu fishermen use bottom trawling, which is banned in Sri Lanka."

The deputy minister said the Indian Central government should take appropriate steps to ensure that the livelihood of Sri Lanka's Northern fishermen are preserved and not threatened at the expense of illegal fishing by Tamil Nadu fishermen.

"The damage does not become less nor can the violation of international boundary law can be justified by way of words, because neither is going to resolve the Tamil Nadu fishermen issue. The two countries must take measures to ensure justice to the fishermen of the North, who are the rightful owners of those fish that are being taken away by their neighbour in violation of their rights to livelihood," Gunaratne pointed out.

"I think it is the duty of the Northern Provincial Chief Minister C. V. Wigneswaran to take up this issue and work out a solution to ensure that the fishermen in the North can engage in their livelihood without hindrance," he added.

"He may consult us and the External Affairs Ministry to work out a practical solution to this problem," said Minister Gunaratna. 

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