ECONOMYNEXT – Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda expects to hold discussions with the Tamil Nadu government to allow a limited number of Indians to engage in fishing in Sri Lankan waters on a weekly basis subject to a considerably large levy, an official said.
This is in contrast to a statement by co-cabinet spokesman Minister Udaya Gammanipla this morning that no such decision has been made.
Fisheries Ministry Media Secretary Nelson Edirisinghe told EconomyNext that Devananda’s proposal envisions a license scheme for a limited number of Indian fishermen to engage in fishing using “normal methods” (as opposed to bottom trawling) on a staggered basis – meaning that fishermen that enter Sri Lanka’s territorial waters one week would not be permitted to re-enter the following week.
At the weekly cabinet press briefing today, Minister Gammanpila said no decision has been made to license fishermen from India to fish in Sri Lankan waters. He was referring to a statement attributed to Minister Devananda by The Morning that discussions were underway with the government of India in this regard. Gammanpila said no such proposal had been discussed at cabinet level.
According to Edirisinghe, Minister Devananda has only proposed the licensing scheme as an alternative solution to the diplomatic problems caused by the long-drawn issue. Under the proposal, he said, bottom trawling will be strictly prohibited.
“What the minister said is that the two major fishing problems in Sri Lanka are the illegal crossing of Indian fishermen into Sri Lankan waters and the bottom trawling. A few other similar solutions are also being discussed between the two governments [when negotiating the release of detained fishermen],” said Edirisinghe.
The alleged robbing of Sri Lankan resources by Indian fishermen has become a serious diplomatic issue between the two countries and Minister Devananda sees his proposal as one solution to address it, he added.
Fishing vessels from South India had got into the habit of straying over the Indo-Lanka maritime border during a 30 year civil war when Sri Lanka fishermen were banned from entering the Northern waters.
Last week Sri Lanka Navy arrested several Indian boats, as election fever was hotting up in South India. Fifty-four Indian nationals were taken into custody. Sri Lanka then released the fishermen, reportedly at India’s request.
Since December last year, 99 Indian fishermen have been apprehended by the Sri Lanka navy along with 11 boats. The Indian High Commission in Colombo said last Wednesday (24) called for a humanitarian approach to resolving the crisis.
“Providing immediate consular access and emergency supplies to apprehended fishermen are of prime importance. We are working with the Government of Sri Lanka for expeditiously securing consular access for these fishermen,” the Daily Mirror quoted a high commission spokesman as saying last week. The spokesman noted that bilateral mechanisms are already in place to comprehensively address all matters related to fisheries.
“It may be recalled that the fourth meeting of the Secretary-level joint working group was held on December 30 through virtual mode. Follow-up measures on the basis of discussions which took place during the meeting need to be taken forward quickly,” the website quoted the spokesman as saying.
At the working group meeting in question, Sri Lanka had called for joint patrols to end continued poaching in the northern waters of the island while India requested the release of arrested fishermen.
“The Sri Lanka delegation underlined the need to address the matter of illegal fishing in the Sri Lankan waters by Indian fishermen, which resulted in loss of livelihood and damage to fishing equipment of local fishermen,” Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Fisheries said on December 31 last year.
“The Indian side elaborated details in regard to the legal action taken against such practices and the initiatives to encourage South Indian fishermen to engage in deep sea fishing and alternative livelihood. The Sri Lankan delegation conveyed the need to further enhance the joint patrolling and operationalisation of the hotline between the Law Enforcement authorities of the two countries to ensure effective results,” the ministry said. (Colombo/Mar30/2021)