Legal hurdles both in Sri Lanka and India are apparently holding up the release of 120 Tamil Nadu fishermen and 34 Lankan fishermen currently in detention in Lanka and India respectively, the New Indian Express reported.
A highly placed Lankan source told Express that the Lankan authorities are hamstrung by the fact that 11 out of the 120 TN fishermen in their custody have cases of assault against them. While the Lankan Foreign and Fisheries Ministries favor early release all the Indian detainees, the Defense Ministry wants to pursue the cases of assault against eleven because they had allegedly attacked Lankan navy personnel while being apprehended.
On the Indian side, 29 of the 34 Lankan fishermen in custody have cases for catching sea cucumbers, which is banned in Indian waters.
The other factor to consider is that both Lanka and India are insisting on wholesale reciprocal release and not piecemeal release.
The initial aim of the two countries was to bring about the release before November 10, Deepavali day. But in later October, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J.Jayalalithaa issued a statement saying that as per a government of India assurance, the release would take place on October 28. This raised hopes but only to be dashed soon.
Meanwhile, the Lankan Minister of Fisheries, Mahinda Amaraweera, has been making controversial statements to the dismay of people who are working for the smooth and quick release of the fishermen and commencement of the fourth round of talks between the fishermen’s associations of the two countries.
While it is true that Amaraweera was incorrectly quoted as saying that Lanka would impose stiff fines on intruding Indian fishermen, he had apparently said that Colombo would seek compensation from India for the environmental damage Indian poachers are causing by indulging in bottom trawling.
The latter statement of Amaraweera’s was denied by a top Lankan official who told Express that seeking compensation is not government’s policy. But the official did say that a committee of experts is to be constituted to study environmental issues in the Palk Strait.