At a meeting held in Rameswaram, fishermen leaders also decided to get support from political parties. “In the coming days, we are going to meet the leaders of all political parties. We are also planning to call for a one-day bandh in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry to condemn the Centre’s indifference to us,” said Ramanathapuram district secretary of the Tamil Nadu Mechanised Boat Fishermen Association B Jesuraja.
The meeting was held in the backdrop of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s advice to the fishermen not to cross the territorial waters of Sri Lanka and the central government’s alleged hesitation to intervene every time Indian fishermen are arrested by the Sri Lankan navy.
“We condemn the central government’s indifference. We demand compensation for the boats damaged in Sri Lankan custody,” said Jesuraja.
Out of 81 boats released by Sri Lanka, fishermen could salvage only 61 boats and the rest have to be abandoned since they were damaged beyond repair. Even among the 61 boats, nearly ten boats had suffered extensive damage, fishermen said.
Fishermen said the meeting between Sushma Swaraj and their leaders disappointed them. “The minister asked us not to venture into Sri Lankan waters. She asked us to carry out fishing in Indian waters, but there is no fish in our waters,” said D Arockiam, a fisherman in Rameswaram.
The ministry of external affairs has asked fishermen to find an alternative job and to adopt deep sea fishing. “But we need time to shift to deep sea fishing. We proposed to hand over a good number of our boats under a buyback scheme. The minister said she would consider the possibility of a buyback scheme,” said Jesuraja.