By Meera Srinivasan
Signalling a departure from its recent decision to be lenient with Indian fishermen allegedly poaching in Sri Lankan waters, the Sri Lankan Navy on Thursday night arrested 86 Indian fishermen off Mullativu in the island’s Northern Province. Ten trawlers in their possession were seized.
After the Maithripala Sirisena-led Government assumed charge in January, Sri Lanka’s northern fishermen pointed to the increasing number of “Indian fishermen” trawling off their coast. They accused the Sri Lankan Navy of being lenient with the Indian fishermen found poaching, a charge that Cabinet spokesperson Rajitha Senaratne admitted to.
Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s emphasis on resuming talks between fishermen from both sides – conveyed during President Sirisena’s recent New Delhi visit – Tamil Nadu fishermen suggested that the discussions be held on March 5. However, Sri Lanka requested for a postponement of talks. “Our new government has prioritised its 100-day programme, so we do not have time to work on this at the moment,” Fisheries Secretary Nimal Hettiarachchi told The Hindu.
The last round of talks between fishermen of India and Sri Lanka, held in Colombo in May 2014 ended in a deadlock with Indian fishermen demanding three years to completely phase out trawling, a proposal that their Sri Lankan counterparts found unreasonable.
‘Modi should address the issue’
Meanwhile, ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheduled visit to Sri Lanka between March 13 and 15 – Northern Province fishermen have urged him to take a strong position on the Palk Bay conflict. “We read in the papers that the Indian Prime Minister is coming to Jaffna as well. We appeal to him to look into our plight and take immediate action,” K. Rajachandran, secretary, Jaffna District Fisheries Federation told The Hindu.
Mr. Rajachandran, along with a group of fisher leaders from the region, on Wednesday met the Indian Consul General in Jaffna, requesting that their message be conveyed to Mr. Modi.
“We feel that our concerns should be taken to the Indian Prime Minister’s notice. This has been an ongoing problem,” said Emiliyan Pillai, president of the Federation of Jaffna District Fishermen Associations.