By Damith Wickremasekara
No Indian fishermen arrested for poaching will be released on humanitarian grounds until proper talks are held either with Tamil Nadu officials or with Indian central government officials, Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne said yesterday. The Government’s decision came as Tuesday’s proposed talks in Colombo on the fisheries crisis hung in the balance after Tamil Nadu demanded the release of more Indian fishermen who are being held in custody here.
Minister Senaratne said the Government had rejected a demand from the Tamil Nadu state government to refrain from arresting Tamil Nadu fishermen poaching in Sri Lanka’s territorial waters.Early this week Sri Lanka hurriedly released 116 Indian fishermen expecting that the talks between Indian and Sri Lankan fisheries officials and representatives of fishermen’s organisations would go ahead on Tuesday. But two days after the release, the Sri Lanka Navy took into custody 18 more boats and arrested 76 Indian fishermen off the northern coast.
“We were earlier assured that the Indian authorities would ensure that there would be no poaching during this month as the two sides were planning to have discussions on resolving the issue. But this is not happening,” Dr. Senaratne said.He said that since the assurance was given, there had been nine incidents where 214 Indian fishermen were arrested and their boats seized by the Sri Lankan Navy.
“There will be no use speaking to the Tamil Nadu authorities if the agreements reached are being violated,” the minister said.Dr. Senaratne said Sri Lanka would now rely on talks with officials of the Indian central government. India had averred that a delegation from the central government would be visiting Sri Lanka next month to discuss the issue of poaching. “We will continue with the arrests if the Indian fishermen poach in Sri Lankan waters,” the minister warned.
Earlier Sri Lanka was considering a plan to seize Indian fishing vessels poaching in Sri Lankan waters and impose heavy penalties on vessel owners, but be lenient on the arrested fishermen.