By Chamikara Weerasinghe
Sri Lanka will not compromise its territorial framework of maritime boundary delimitations, which is an international law governing territorial seas, under any circumstances, Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratna said yesterday.
Responding to the alleged claim by the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha Jeyaram that the Tamil Nadu fishermen be allowed to fish in traditional fishing grounds in Sri Lanka, he emphasised that what Tamil Nadu says did not count.
When the fishermen’s associations of the two countries meet today, according to media reports, the Indian side would insist on fishing rights in Sr Lankan waters, irrespective of the International
Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL).
However, “we will seek to address fisheries issues between Sri Lanka and India with a friendly bilateral approach as two sovereign countries,” the minister said.
Lauding the stand taken by the Central Indian Government to place special emphasis on the fact that the sovereignty of Kachchativu islet lies with Sri Lanka ahead of the talks to be held today in Chennai between the heads of fisheries organisations and officials of Sri Lanka and India, Minister Senaratna said this will create a setting conducive for discussions. Dr. Senaratna said he was happy to learn that the Sri Lankan fisheries delegation that arrived in India for talks with officials of Tamil Nadu fisheries associations and fisheries authorities received a warm welcome at the Chennai Airport.
“Our delegation in particular will discuss matters relating to poaching by fishermen from both countries and treatment they get in prisons after being arrested for illegal fishing,” he said.
Meanwhile, India media reported yesterday that the Tamil Nadu State Government announced a five-point agenda for the envisioned talks, one of which would be that it wants free fishing rights for Tamil Nadu fishermen in Palk Bay, irrespective of the international Maritime Boundary Limitations.
They informed the Indian Centre that talks in Chennai would not compromise the stand taken by it in the writ petition in the Supreme Court regarding India’s territorial sovereignty over Kachchativu.
Commenting on the Tamil Nadu stand on Kachchativu islet, Senaratna said this carries zero weight. “The exercise of the jurisdiction of the Kachchativu islet in the Palk Strait lies with Sri Lanka since it had been cemented by successive agreements signed between India and Sri Lanka in 1974 and 1976,” he said. “A writ petition filed by an assembly of a Provincial Government cannot alter or reverse an agreement signed between two sovereign states,” the minister said.
He recalled how President Mahinda Rajapaksa rejected a call for the return of Kachchativu island by the Tamil Nadu Government in May 2001. The President as the then Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Minister stated: ‘It is impossible to give the island back as it has been recognised by the international community as an integral part of Sri Lanka since it was handed over to the country by late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.”
Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Deputy Minister Sarath Kumara Gunaratna asked how anyone can speak of their rights after entering without permission into territorial waters of another country after violating international maritime laws. Tamil Nadu fishermen have their rights in Indian seas. “We have warned our fishermen not to get swayed into Indian territorial waters because it would be violation of law.”
“Tamil Nady had arrested some of our fishermen for using a traditional passage of sea which Maldivian, Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen use to get into high seas. Our delegation will raise this matter at the discussion,” Gunaratna said.
“We have already made arrangements to hand over the Indian fishermen to India.”
“We want to repatriate them as a gesture of goodwill and for the long-standing friendship between India and Sri Lanka. We have treated them well in our prisons. But our fishermen lodged in Tamil Nadu suffered without proper food and sanitation. These issues need to be addressed,” he said .