By Prasad Kariyawasam
Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Development Minister Rajitha Senaratne visited New Delhi on 15-16 January, at the invitation of his counterpart, the Minister of Agriculture and Food Processing Industries of India, Sharad Pawar.
On the eve of the visit, the two Governments, following discussions between the External Affairs Ministers of India and Sri Lanka, decided to release the substantial number of fishermen who are presently in custody in India and in Sri Lanka as expeditiously as possible, commencing from 13 January, as a measure of reciprocal goodwill. Accordingly, Sri Lanka and India released 52 fishermen from each side on 13 January.
Minister Rajitha Senaratne held wide ranging discussions with Minister Sharad Pawar in Delhi on 15 January especially on the matter of fishermen from Sri Lanka and India engaging in crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) and fishing illegally in each other's waters. Minister Senaratne was accompanied by senior officials including Additional Solicitor General Suhada Gamlath, Director General of the Sri Lanka Navy Rear Admiral Neil Rosayro, and Director General of the Department of Fisheries Nimal Hettiarachchi. Minister Sharad Pawar was accompanied by Joint Secretary of the Department of Fisheries and several other senior officials.
The two ministers held extensive discussions on issues pertaining to immediate measures to release fishermen and boats in custody on both sides, long-term measures that can be mutually agreed upon with a view to preventing fishermen from both countries engaging in unlawful fishing in each other's waters, and banning the use of illegal fishing methods. In this regard, the two ministers agreed to set up an expert committee comprising senior officials on both sides. The expert committee, among other matters, will discuss and work out measures that can be taken for training of fishermen in both countries in alternative fishing methods including deep sea fishing and finding long-term sustainable solutions to the problems faced by the fishing communities in the two countries.
During his visit to Delhi, Minister Senaratne also called on the External Affairs Minister of India Salman Khurshid. Minister Khurshid thanked Minister Senaratne for starting the process of releasing the fishermen who are currently in custody which will create an atmosphere conducive for both sides to explore long-term solutions for the vexed issues of fishermen crossing the IMBL and effective implementation of the ban on environmentally harmful fishing methods.
Minister Rajitha Senaratne, in his discussions with both Minister Pawar and Minister Khurshid, highlighted the need for India and Sri Lanka to work together to create a sustainable fishery regime in the Palk Bay and the Indian Ocean Region for the benefit of both countries. He also stressed the need to create capacities to exploit deep sea fishing resources in the Indian Ocean, and for this purpose, the requirement to support joint venture projects.
High Commissioner Prasad Kariyawasam was associated with Minister Rajitha Senaratne at his meetings.