Chennai, Apr 5: Taking exception to the latest arrest of 37 Tamil Nadu fishermen by Sri Lankan Navy, Chief Minister O Panneerselvam on Sunday appealed to the Centre to take it up at the highest diplomatic level and secure their immediate release as well as their boats.
In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the chief minister said the fishermen who set sail from Nagappatinam in five boats were apprehended on April 3.
They, along with their boats, have been taken to Kangesanthurai and remanded to judicial custody, he said. He said it was unfortunate that the incident had taken place immediately after the third round of fishermen level talks which were recently held at Chennai on March 24 which went "on smoothly and in a conducive atmosphere."
"At a time when we were hopeful that a pragmatic and permanent solution to this issue would emerge as a result of the fishermen level talks, it is disconcerting to read media reports, quoting senior Sri Lankan leaders, stating inter alia that the Sri Lankan Navy would be directed to apprehend Indian fishermen fishing in their traditional fishing waters of the Palk Bay," he said.
"We are concerned that this most recent act of the Sri Lankan Navy will be seen in the light of these statements and will again heighten the anxiety and unrest in the minds of our fishermen and vitiate the atmosphere of goodwill which was generated as a result of the fishermen level talks," he said.
"A firm, clear, unequivocal and unambiguous message should be sent out by the Government of India to the Sri Lankan side to ensure that these trends are reversed and the livelihood of the poor and innocent fishermen from Tamil Nadu who are engaged in their traditional occupation and fish in their traditional waters are protected," he said.
The statements and the recent incident yet again highlight the importance of retrieving Katchatheevu islet and abrogation of the 1974 and 1976 agreements thereby restoring the traditional and historical fishing grounds of the Palk Bay to the Tamil Nadu fishermen, he said.
He said ceding of Katchatheevu to Lanka had been challenged by his leader AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa and also by the state government in the Supreme Court.
He also said the state government had the greatest concern for the conservation of the marine ecosystem and "does not support unsustainable practices." It has taken several steps to minimize the pressure on the marine ecosystem, he said.
Panneerselvam also sought sanction at the earliest of a Rs 1,520 crore financial package and recurring grant of Rs ten crore, which his leader (Jayalalithaa) had requested in a memorandum to the Prime Minister on June 3 last, which would go a long way in improving the socio-economic status of the fishermen from the coastal areas of the state.
Early action on permanent solution for the Katchatheevu problem and long term diversification measures must be initiated, he said.
"I request that this latest incident of apprehension of our fishermen be taken up at the highest diplomatic level. It should be ensured that this unfortunate incident receives the much needed priority attention that it deserves and the Government of India should take necessary steps to ensure the safety and security of our fishermen," he said in his letter to Modi.
The Centre should secure immediate release of the 37 fishermen and 18 boats in Lankan custody, including the five mechanised boats seized on Friday, he said.