Sri Lanka has stopped releasing seized boats

The Indian Government has told the Madras High Court that since 2015 Sri Lanka had stopped releasing boats of Indian fishermen apprehended on charges of trespassing into foreign waters for illegal fishing, particularly through the banned method of bottom trawling, The Hindu newspaper reported.

Justices Vineet Kothari and R. Suresh Kumar were told that the decision to not release the boats was taken as a measure of deterrence and that the Sri Lankan government had also amended its laws in July 2017 and January 2018 to prevent illegal fishing and bottom trawling by foreign vessels too.

“The Sri Lankan government has been prosecuting the fishermen arrested for fishing in Sri Lankan waters before the Magistrate courts concerned and also the Sri Lankan courts have been ordering the presence of the owners of the boats for the release of the fishing vessels,” the counter affidavit read.

It was filed in response to a public interest litigation petition filed by Fishermen Care, a non-governmental organisation represented by its president L.T.A. Peter Rayan, accusing the Centre of not having provided sufficient funds for the rehabilitation of Indian fishermen arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy.

Assuring the court that the Centre had been taking continuous efforts to get the boats as well as the arrested Indian fishermen released, the counter stated that the issue had to be sorted out only through diplomatic channels, since the jurisdiction of the Indian courts would not extend to a foreign country.

In so far as allocation of funds for rehabilitation of fishermen was concerned, the Centre said that that it had released ₹.184.93 crore in the last five years to the State government for the implementation of the Blue Revolution: Integrated Development and Management of Fisheries scheme.

Further, another ₹.300 crore was allocated for providing assistance for deep sea fishing and constructing a fish landing centre at Kunthukal in Ramanathapuram district. A specific advice had also been issued to the State government to give priority to fishermen, who had lost their boats while granting assistance, it said.

The scheme was being implemented specifically for the benefit of the fishermen belonging to Nagapattinam, Thanjavur, Pudukottai and Ramanathapuram and those who fish in the Palk Bay region. They were being provided financial assistance for provision of housing, drinking water and construction of community halls.

The fishermen were also being trained in deep sea fishing, long lining and on-board processing of fish and the Centrally sponsored scheme provides for conversion of trawlers into resource specific deep sea fishing vessels through 100% subsidy with a ceiling of ₹15 lakh per vessel, the Centre said.

After taking the counter affidavit, filed through senior central government standing counsel J. Madhanagopal Rao on file, the judges directed the petitioner’s counsel L.P. Maurya to file his rejoinder in two weeks.

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