For the fishing community comprising tens of thousands of hardworking and courageous fishermen and their families, life has often if not always been fraught with danger, despair and destitution.
With the brazen poaching by Tamil Nadu fishermen, who during the past few years have been robbing in Sri Lanka’s waters while also destroying the ocean bed through bottom trawling, the plight of Sri Lanka’s fishing communities has been plunged into raging waters.
Thousands of them say they find themselves literally between the devil of enslaved poverty or ‘dharadrathavaya’ and the deep blue sea with their livelihood at a dead end, while they and their families have no option but to slowly drown. The worst affected by Tamil Nadu’s blatant violation of international laws are the northern fisher families some of whom say they toil from dawn to dusk but cannot find even one square meal for the family while the Tamil Nadu fisheries business has gone worldwide making billions in profits.
The representatives of Sri Lanka’s fishing community say that in addition to the death threats from Tamil Nadu, their boats have also being rocked by the government which promised much but as usual provided little. The fishermen say that though relief was promised, even the fuel subsidy has been cut or withdrawn and they find themselves in a political trap, hook, line and sinker.
The Government and Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne have often promised that better facilities will be given to the fishing community and that the poaching crisis with Tamil Nadu settled soon. Recently the Sri Lankan Navy released about 150 Indian fishermen and their boats after they were taken into custody for poaching in Sri Lankan waters. The release was a gesture of goodwill in preparation for talks with Tamil Nadu and Indian Central Government officials. But the talks, scheduled to be held this week were postponed again and political observers believe little or nothing is possible because Tamil Nadu and its Chief Minister Jeyaram Jayalalithaa are playing a major role in the national election to be held next month. Latest opinion polls indicate that the main opposition Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) led by the charismatic Narendra Modi may get about 170 seats while the ruling Congress Party despite the emergence of Rahul Gandhi is likely to get only about 100 seats in the 536-member Lok Sabha or the lower house of the Indian parliament. In such a scenario, the BJP may have to form a ruling coalition with regional parties including Ms. Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). Some Indian analysts also believe there is a possibility, though a remote one of regional parties forming a coalition government and if that happens, Ms. Jayalalithaa may become the Prime Minister. Not only our fishing community, but the whole of Sri Lanka would find itself in quite a mess if that ever happens.
By way of a solution, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), in a comprehensive manifesto presented by its new leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, has promised that steps will be taken for the social, cultural and educational upliftment of the fisheries community. The JVP has promised that measures will be taken to stop the encroaching of foreign fishing vessels in Sri Lankan waters.
A proper survey on the aquatic resources within Sri Lanka’s maritime boundary will be conducted. Industries will be set up to produce food items based on fish and aquatic plants. A systematic programme will be put in place in ports, fisheries harbours and ferry ports to identify possible natural disasters that could happen in the sea. Technologically advanced equipment will be given to fishing vessels.
Local fishermen will also be provided with the necessary security and services to uplift the fresh water fisheries sector will be provided by the State, the JVP manifesto states.
We urge the Rajapaksa Government also to seriously consider and implement similar measures without waiting till the JVP comes to office which may be a long way below the ocean.