No more solutions for Indian SL fishermen issues

Last week, Indian fishermen carried out a 6 day protest alleging that the Sri Lanka navy has shot an Indian fisherman. However, strongly denying these allegations, Commander of the Sri Lanka navy, Vice Admiral Raweendra Wijegunaratne says to Lanka News Web, that there is no possibility of such an incident.

Although requests have been made by the navy to the Indian Coast Guard department to provide the GPS data of the boat that is said to have been shot at, so far no such information have been sent by Indian authorities. When queried, representatives of fishermen’s associations and the people in the north, they said that it would be hard for them to believe that the Navy could have done such a thing.

According to foreign sources, the bullet that has been fired into the Indian vessel bears an Indian serial number. Accordingly, suspicions have been raised as to whether this was a drama that was staged by Indian fishermen to mislead the public. If they are without fault, then there is no reason to delay the releasing of information. At present, Tamil Nadu fishermen have demanded the Indian Central government to compensate for loses that had been incurred due to the protest. Along with this, they have also many more demands including housing, living allowances many other demands. Many have criticized this move as taking undue advantage over the central government while using the shooting issue as a scape goat. According to Indian media, one such politician has even made a promise that Indian fishermen would be allowed to carry out fishing in Sri Lankan waters for three years.

Expressing his views on the matter, Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said that the investigations are being carried out on the matter. The Minister has called for investigation reports from both the Ministry of Defense and the Navy. When asked as to why the government could not find a permanent solution for the fisheries problem between India and Sri Lanka, the Minister said that these issues would be extensively discussed during the the oncoming discussions between India that is scheduled to be held in April.

At present a minimum of 400-500 Indian fishing vessels poach into Sri Lankan territorial waters at one time. Jude Kumara, a boat owner in Kachchathivu said that the high amount of poaching in the Polk straight has caused much hardship for Sri Lankan fishermen to carry out their livelihood. Pointing out that these Indian fishing vessels are tearing up fishing nets that have been laid down by Sri Lankan fishermen, Jude said that Indian fishermen are using various tactics to poach into Sri Lankan waters. Most of the fishermen we spoke to were strongly against this unacceptable conduct of Indian fishermen. A fisherman in Delft said that there are over 1500 fishing families whose only livelihood depends on fishing. According to him, once these nets are ruined by Indian fishing vessels, these fishermen are unable to get back on their feet for days.

At a time the lives of Sri Lankan fishermen have fallen to such unfortunate state, the necessity towards finding a permanent diplomatic solution for this problem has become dire than never before. At present these people have no other means of income other than fishing. When Indian fishing vessels are coming into Sri Lanka in large number, the navy too does not have sufficient resources to monitor and pursue each one of them. There have been many occasions where the navy had released some Indian poachers after strong advice due to humanitarian reasons. Under such circumstances, it is unthinkable that our navy would ever shot at Indian fishermen.

At present, Sri Lanka navy has been upgraded with state of the art technology. Accordingly, communication has been improved to a level that any naval vessel is capable of contacting the Navy commander at sea. Before commencing fire, the permission from the Navy commander is compulsory. But on the day of the dispute, no such request has been made from the Navy commander. Accordingly the navy has refuted the allegation.

This issue was once again brought under the spotlight with the annual Catholic festival at St. Anthony’s church in Kachchathivu Island. The renovations of the church were carried out by the Sri Lanka Navy with an expense of 7.7 Million Rupees. The blessing of St. Anthony is sought by all sailors and fishermen who go to sea. Apart from Kochchikade Colombo, the St. Anthony’s church in Kachchathivu has a special importance as Indian fishermen also visit the church. It can be known as the only mass held by the two countries jointly. However, due to this problem, the Indian fishermen have decided to boycott this year’s festival. Normally the pilgrims who come are first checked by the Indian coastguard and are then checked by the Sri Lanka navy. Since there are no Visa requirements to take part in Kachchathivu mass, many people are coming for the festival. However, this alleged shooting has become a scapegoat for Tamil Nadu politicians to gain political advantage.

The incident is believed to have taken place at 12.30 at night and the shooting has been informed to the authorities the day after. Although the authorities of the two countries have close communications, this incident has been reported with an unusual delay. However, as soon as relevant information are received from India, a committee headed by the Deputy chief of staff of the Navy, has been appointed to probe the matter sources say.

AshWaru Colombo

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