With India and Sri Lanka having agreed to set up a hotline between their coast guards to resolve the prolonged fishermen-related crisis, Tamil Nadu’s ruling AIADMK party gave credit for the breakthrough to ailing Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa.
AIADMK leader C. R. Saraswathi told ANI, “Our chief minister has taken a lot of initiatives for the problems faced by Tamil fishermen, as the issue has been prolonged for a long time now. Yesterday, there was a meeting in Delhi, where a very good decision was taken as both countries came to an agreement that if a fisherman crosses the border also, they won’t take severe action from both sides.”
Expressing happiness over the development, Saraswathi gave credit to Jayalalithaa, saying that her constant intervention in the matter with the Centre and the Sri Lanka Government had finally borne fruit.
Yesterday, after holding ministerial level talks, the governments of India and Sri Lanka agreed to set up a hotline between the coast guards and a Joint Working Group (JWG) on fisheries to meet every three months in a bid to address the long pending fishermen issue.
Both countries also agreed to hold a meeting between the Ministers for Fisheries every six months, according to a statement released by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Radha Mohan Singh met with the Sri Lankan Minister for Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera and Minister for Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Mahinda Amaraweera.
The ministers exchanged views on possible mechanisms to help find a permanent solution to the fishermen issues after which they agreed on the setting up of a JWG.
The delegations for the group would include representatives from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, the Coast Guards and Navies of both countries. The first ministerial meeting would be held on January 2, 2017 in Colombo.
The issue of the release of detained fishing vessels will be discussed at the first JWG meeting. Both governments also agreed to the request by the Fishermen Associations that there should be no violence and no loss of life in the handling of fishermen by the Navies and Coast Guards of the two countries.
They agreed to encourage fishermen associations of the two countries to meet every six months to take further their dialogue from the inconclusive meeting held on November 2 in New Delhi. The ministers noted that the process is underway for the release of fishermen presently in custody on either side.
The bone of contention between the two sides is the Palk bay, the 137 kilometers long and its breadth varies between 64 to 137 kilometers. An International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) separates five Indian (262,562 fishermen) and three Sri Lankan districts (119,000 fishermen).
Fishing is the economic mainstay of northern Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan fishermen has been demanding their Indian counterparts to stop bottom-trawling that they content has been damaging the marine ecosystem.
Since 2014 Sri Lanka Navy has seized more than 100 fishing trawlers; while they have released the Indian fishermen, they refuse to release the trawlers.