By Damith Wickremasekara
Next week’s high level talks between Sri Lanka and India in New Delhi on poaching in Sri Lanka’s territorial waters will also focus on a prisoner swap of fishermen.
While Sri Lanka is holding Tamil Nadu fishermen in local jails, Indian authorities have detained Lankan fishermen in a number of jails there.
Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne who heads the Government’s delegation told the Sunday Times they would be conveying to the Indian delegation that Sri Lanka suffered an estimated annual loss of Rs. 95 billion due to poaching by Indian fishermen.The Sri Lankan delegation will consist of officials from the Attorney General’s Department, the Navy, the External Affairs Ministry and the Coast Guard Department. The delegation will meet a top level Indian team headed by Agriculture Minister Sharard Pawar, who also is in charge of fisheries. The meetings are scheduled to take place on Wednesday and Thursday in New Delhi.
“We hope to work out a swap of fishermen so that all detained fishermen will be released simultaneously. This is in addition to finding a long-term solution to the fisheries issues between the two countries,” Dr Senaratne said. At present, 212 Sri Lankan fishermen and 28 vessels have been detained in India while 288 Indians are in custody in Sri Lanka for poaching in Sri Lankan waters.
Sri Lanka, during the talks, would submit a dossier containing information regarding the poaching issue, losses incurred and the damage caused to marine life. The information also would be handed over to Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and Indian National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon during separate meetings with them, the minister said.
The impact of Indian fishermen using ‘bottom trawling’, a fishing method banned internationally, would also be raised by the delegation, Dr. Senaratne said.
“We are looking for a permanent solution to the issue. This will include a mechanism on release of fishermen who may be detained for intruding into each other’s territorial waters,” Dr. Senaratne added.
Next week’s talks come after the failure of several efforts to hold a meeting of the Joint Working Group on fisheries. The last meeting was held in January 2012 in Colombo and it was India’s turn to host the next meeting last year, but it was not held. Dr. Senaratne said Sri Lanka would urge the Tamil Nadu state government, through the Indian Central Government, to adhere to the decision which would be taken to resolve the longstanding fisheries issues.
Tamil Nadu fishermen association representatives are also due to meet the Sri Lankan delegation in New Delhi on Wednesday. The minister said that meanwhile, a delegation of Sri Lankan fishermen in the north had been directly invited by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jeyaram Jayalalitha. “We are trying to resolve the issues by dealing with the central government. We do not encourage talks with the state government,” he added.