The Indian government is planning “deterrent” action against Indian fishermen violating international waters with Sri Lanka, finding that trawlers and ships from this side are the biggest source of confrontation with the Emerald isle, the Times of India reported today.
The decision to slap penalties and even suspend the licences of fishermen who are repeat offenders of the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) stems from their refusal to heed the earlier warnings.
Foreign minister Salman Khurshid spoke to his Lankan counterpart G L Peiris on Friday, seeking the release of 26 Indian fishermen in Colombo’s custody. In response, Peiris asked for a meeting between the fishermen’s associations of the two countries to resolve the issue.
This has Indian government stumped because of Tamil Nadu’s rigid attitude, possibly for political reason. The TN government has stonewalled an early meeting of fishermen’s association, saying the atmosphere wasn’t conducive for it. This has the Centre explore alternative venue for such meeting like Puducherry or Bangalore. PM Manmohan Singh has personally weighed in on this with TN CM J Jayalalithaa as has Khurshid and the MEA brass, without any success.
At a recent meeting chaired by the foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai, the view veered towards the fact that Indian fishermen are crossing the IMBL to fish in Lankan waters with impunity. The meet emphasized that Indian fishing boats were routinely transgressing the IMBL, with the Indian Navy pegging the figure at 700-900 every day.
In a bid to enforce discipline, several long-term measures may soon be put in place. Besides deterrent penalty for violators and suspension of licence for repeat offenders, India may extend the “no fishing” period from the current 45 to 60 days and also during monsoons. New Delhi may set up a “no fishing zone” straddling the IMBL and India-Lanka Marine Disputes Authority.
The move to rein in the Indian fishing community seeks to address the major flashpoint between New Delhi and Colombo, threatening the diplomatic detente besides emerging a polarizing issue in TN politics.
In addition, India might take more serious measures like a ban on bottom trawling and use of monofilament and twin fold nets, which are the main culprits from the Indian side. This is not allowed in most countries, but Indian fishermen use these equipment which destroys marine ecology and stop issuing licences to new trawlers from operating in the Palk Straits and the Gulf of Mannar.