MADURAI: Reiterating its earlier stand on the retrieval of Katchatheevu from Sri Lanka, the Tamil Nadu government has stated that restoration of traditional fishing rights of Indian fishermen, which if not implemented, will mean that Tamil Nadu fishermen will have to stop fishing and starve.
Filing a counter affidavit to a batch of petitions, seeking various directions to prevent killing of fishermen in the waters between two nations, the chief secretary of Tamil Nadu said the state government has always maintained a stand that the Katchatheevu island should be retrieved by India and traditional fishing rights of the Palk Bay fishermen should be restored.
A petition was filed in 2008 before the Supreme Court to reconsider the 1974 and 1976 agreements with Sri Lanka and restore Katchatheevu to India. The petition said that if Katchatheevu is restored to India and International Maritime Boundary line (IMBL) redrawn, the incursions of the fishing boats on the other side of IMBL can be minimised and fishermen can conduct fishing in their traditional fishing grounds.
The state pointed out that Katchatheevu, which was a part of India, was ceded to Sri Lanka under the Indo-Sri Lankan maritime agreement in the year 1974 without consulting the state government. Subsequently, another agreement was signed in 1976 in which the boundaries between the two countries in Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal were settled. In pursuant to those agreements, the Tamil Nadu fishermen are not permitted to conduct fishing in the areas where they have been fishing traditionally, for centuries.
The ethnic strife in Sri Lanka in 1983 and the subsequent developments, made the Sri Lankan government declare their area as a prohibited security zone for fishing. However, the fishermen used to cross the Indian territorial waters and fish in the Palk waters, their traditional fishing grounds. Indian fishermen straying into the disputed waters in search of fishing grounds for their livelihood, were apprehended, or shot at or harassed by the Sri Lankan navy, the state government contended.
Pointing out that the deaths of fishermen was due to shooting resorted to by the Sri Lankan navy on the other side of IMBL, the state government said that 167 incidents occurred from 1991 to 2011, in which 85 fishermen had lost their lives and 180 fishermen sustained injuries.
Emphasising on treating the straying fishermen in a humanitarian manner, the Tamil Nadu government said, "Contrary to the statements issued, the Sri Lankan navy/ miscreants continue to harass the Indian fishermen, which has created a sense of unrest among the community."
Underlining that it is the mandatory duty of the Indian Coast Guard to give protection to the Tamil Nadu fishermen and their property in Indian waters, the affidavit said, "The security agencies should ensure that all the fishermen are given protection while fishing in the sea by liaising with the Sri Lankan navy."
The batch of petitions is likely to come up for hearing on February 23. (Source: The Times of India)