Namal questions Vaiko’s stand on fishermen issue

Opposition Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa has asked why Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) leader Vaiko opposed laws that seek to protect Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen, The Hindu newspaper reported.

“#Vaiko claims to speak on behalf of Tamil people. Then why oppose laws that protect livelihoods of #SriLanka Tamil fishermen? @narendramodi,” the young parliamentarian, who Mr. Rajapaksa considers his political heir, tweeted on Monday, days after Mr. Vaiko addressed a protest rally in Rameswaram.

Sri Lanka’s Fisheries Ministry is considering imposing steep fines, of up to Rs. 7 crore, on foreign vessels trespassing into its territorial waters.

Addressing Tamil Nadu fishermen recently, Mr. Vaiko had said the proposed law, expected to come into effect in early 2017, would “crush” the livelihoods of Tamil Nadu fishermen. He urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to pressure Sri Lanka against introducing such a law.

The fisheries conflict between Sri Lankan and Indian fishermen has remained a contentious issue between the neighbours. Bottom trawlers originating from Tamil Nadu fish in the Palk Bay, a narrow strait between south-eastern coast of India along Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka’s Tamil-majority north, often crossing into Sri Lankan waters.

The livelihood of nearly 2 lakh Tamils across Sri Lanka’s war-torn Northern Province is tied to the sea — fisheries and agriculture being two key sectors of their rural economy. Sri Lankan fishermen have repeatedly observed that while they value the solidarity expressed by their Tamil Nadu counterparts through the years of war and later, the State needed to appreciate their right to livelihood.

Following recurring complaints from Sri Lankan fishermen, leaders from both sides of the Palk Bay have met multiple times since 2010, only to find negotiations turn futile.

The Sri Lankan Navy continues arresting Indian fishermen on charges of engaging in illegal fishing, and apprehends the trawlers. In 2016, 254 Indian fishermen were arrested and 46 trawlers seized. Since 2014, Sri Lanka has been releasing the arrested fishermen swiftly, but has retained the seized trawlers, now numbering close to 150.

Following this, Sri Lanka has observed a marginal decrease in the number of Indian trawlers spotted in its waters.

Early November, Foreign and Fisheries Ministers of India and Sri Lanka met in New Delhi to discuss the issue. India acknowledged the need to phase out bottom-trawling, a destructive fishing method that threatens marine biodiversity, and the two countries have decided to meet regularly, through a Joint Working Group.

The next meeting is scheduled for January.

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