Harassed fishermen pin hope on Sushma’s promise

Written by: OneIndia Defence desk
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Chennai, Nov 30: With the latest arrest of eight Indian fishermen by the Srilanka Coast Guard (SCG) on Sunday morning, the spotlight has again fallen on their never-ending plight.

The Sri Lanka Navy assisted the SCG in arresting these fishermen and their trawlers for allegedly crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL). The arrests were made at the Delft Island in Sri Lankan waters.

Fishing boats

The issue has remained a sensitive one for successive governments at both Centre and Tamil Nadu for over three decades now.

Speaking to OneIndia from Rameswaram, U Arulanandam, president of the Alliance for Release of Innocent Fishermen (ARIF), one of the leading movements active in TN, said that the Centre should step up pressure on Sri Lanka.

"This is an issue that dates back to 1983. We admit that the fishermen are crossing the IMBL. But there's no other way for our survival. The fishermen have no other place to go. From Rameswaram IMBL it is around 11 nautical miles and it is spread across 120 km. From Dhanushkodi it is around six nautical miles," Arulanandam said.

Harassment of fishermen a cause of great concern: ARIF

While the fishermen are yet to warm up to the idea of deep sea fishing, officials say that's probably the only solution in sight.

"The fishermen want returns for their efforts the very next day. The scenario changes with deep-sea shipping and lot more effort, time and energy are required in this mode. The Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard have repeatedly told our fishermen that they are helpless if they cross the IMBL. Added, bottom trawling is banned in Sri Lanka," says an official.

Sri Lanka also accuses Indian fishermen of using banned fishing gadgets widely used for bottom trawling. These gadgets are said to be damaging the fishing nets of Lankan fishermen as well.
However, Arulanandam says that the he is pinning his hopes on the assurances given by Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.

"We talked at length about the issue and she has promised us help. We want the Sri Lankan Navy to stop harassing our fishermen. They are torturing our fishermen. I have just visited one fisherman in hospital, who was attacked by Lankan Navy. Even the fishing nets are being cut. The nets are expensive ones with the costs ranging from Rs 50,000 to a lakh," he said.

He said with Sunday's arrests, a total of 41 fishermen are languishing in Lankan jails and 64 boats seized.
He said around 3000 boats set out to the sea every day from this region. "The Palk Bay area gets congested with so many boats. But, the fishermen have no other place to go. I hope both the governments come out with a plan," he adds.

Social media chips in with suggestions to help fishermen

In an online Twitter poll done by this Correspondent with the question -- What's the solution to save Indian fishermen being arrested and harassed too often by Lankan Navy -- saw a majority participants voting for strengthening of bilateral ties between the two nations.

The poll that was live for 24 hours, saw even many backing the idea of training Indian fishermen so that they exercise restraint and not cross the IMBL.

The similar question that was posed on defence blog Tarmak007 saw a variety of suggestions from active social media devotees.

"There should be a bilateral agreement with Lanka so that fishermen should be deported to India at the earliest, if their purpose was only fishing," writes Deepu Raj.

"A new bilateral agreement clearly recognising the median line has to be put forward. Both the governments should then work towards fortifying inter-nation relationships thus promoting a positive environment amongst the masses," says Karthik Kakoor.

Expressing another view, Arun Nambiar felt that the Indian Navy also should be alert and warn the fishermen when they venture into Lankan waters. Many also felt that the fishing boats be equipped with better navigational gadgets.

"Fisherman should be given good GPS trackers and other tracking devices so that they do not go into Lankan waters. And, if still they are harassed by the Lankan Navy then Indian Navy has to answer," writes Mayank Kumar.

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