COLOMBO: Now that the week-long agitation over the death of young Rameswaram fisherman Britjo, allegedly at the hands of the Sri Lankan navy is over and the body has been buried, Tamil Nadu’s fishermen are wanting the Central Indian government to find a permanent solution to the problem of fishing in the Palk Strait and believe that Prime Minister Narendra Modi can deliver the goods.
Talking to Express over the phone from Rameswaram on Monday, U.Arulanandam, President of the Association for the Release of Innocent Fishermen said that with Modi consolidating his power after the sweeping victory in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, he should be able to take bold decisions on the fishing issue both in terms of protecting the lives of fishermen from the Sri Lankan navy and in terms of finding an alternative to fishing in the Palk Strait.
Seeking redress from Sri Lanka for shooting to death 22 year old Britzo and injuring another, Arulanandam said that India should take action against Colombo under international law as ,according to him, it is clearly stated therein that erring fishermen can only be arrested and that killing is impermissible. He pointed out that even Pakistanis do not fire on Indian fishermen who stray into Pakistani waters .They are only imprisoned.
He further pointed out that in 2012 when Italian Marines killed two Kerala fisherman mistaking them for pirates, the government arrested the marines and filed a case against them. If a case can be filed in that case, what is preventing New Delhi from taking legal action against the concerned Sri Lankan naval personnel, he asked.
According to Arulanandam, 187 Indian fishermen have been killed and 82 are missing since 1985 when the Sri Lankan navy began the practice of opening fire on intruding Indian fishermen. But this ceased when New Delhi and Colombo entered into a pact by which violence was to be abjured. However, the practice of using firearms was resumed in November 2016, when two fishermen from Karaikal were injured. But New Delhi has neither verbally condemned these incidents nor taken any punitive action against Sri Lanka.
Arulanandam conceded that Indian fishermen do cross over the International Maritime Boundary Line to fish on the Sri Lankan side. But he justified it by saying that the Palk Strait is too narrow a stretch of water for boundary lines to be respected. The sea is narrow but the number of trawlers, estimated to be 2500, is high he said. But he believes that the resources of this small sea could be shared between the fishing communities of the two countries, that trawling could be regulated; and the use of certain types of nets could be banned.
However, sadly, none of this has been done despite several rounds of talks between the two governments and between the fishermen’s organizations. Arulanandam firmly believes that only the Indian and Sri Lankan governments can solve the problem. The fishermen and the Tamil Nadu government cannot.
He also said that the Indian government has not done enough to divert fishermen from the Palk Strait to the ocean beyond. The Tamil Nadu government had put forward to the Central government a INR 10,000 crore scheme to convert trawlers into multi-day deep sea vessels .But the Centre has been sitting over the proposal.
“INR 10,000 crore is a flea bite for the Central government. But still, it has not been allocated. Even if they give each fisherman’s family, INR 1 crore, and ask them to abandon fishing and take to some other business, the fishermen will be happy to oblige,” Arulanandam said.
He warned that if no action is taken to solve the problem and stem the practice of opening fire on erring fishermen, the younger generation of fishermen could take to violence themselves and the problem could snowball into something vastly more dangerous.
“But I still have hopes that the matter will be solved with Modi at the helm. The discussions we had with Nirmala Seetharaman give us that confidence. We have to solve this problem while Modi is in power in Delhi, and good officers like Gagandeep Singh Bedi (Collector of Ramanathapuram) and Taranjit Singh Sandhu ( High Commissioner in Colombo) are in charge,” Arulanandam said.