“The legalities or sovereignty of nations do not bind the poor and innocent fishermen just like fish which have no trans-boundaries… Any decision or stipulation that harms the traditional fishing practices in the Palk Bay will deprive thousands of fishermen, and also the families that indirectly depend on fishing profession, of their right to livelihood and make them starve,” the government contended.
The submissions were made in a counter affidavit filed on behalf of the Chief Secretary Debendranath Sarangi in reply to a public interest litigation petition seeking a direction to the Centre to protect the fishermen.
The counter was served on the petitioner's counsel W. Peter Ramesh Kumar on Wednesday though the case has been listed for hearing on February 23.
Giving details of distance between the IMBL and different villages in the coastal districts of Nagapattinam, Thanjavur, Pudukottai and Ramanathapuram, the government said that the minimum distance was 9 nautical miles from Dhanushkodi and the maximum was 34 nautical miles from Devipattinam. One nautical mile was approximately 1.85 kilometres.
As per the Tamil Nadu Marine Fishing Regulation Act 1983, mechanised fishing boats could fish only beyond 3 nautical miles from the coast. “The area, thus available for fishing near Rameswaram (Dhanushkodi) is only 6 nautical miles portion. No proper fishing grounds are available in the area which also has rocks and coral reef.
“Hundreds of fishermen have to lay their nets in the limited area. When the nets are laid, drifting is inevitable (as a sweep area of about 2 square kilometres is required for fishing) due to wave action or water current and the boats naturally tend to cross the IMBL… Such fishermen were apprehended, shot at and harassed by the Sri Lankan Navy and other miscreants,” the counter read.
Claiming that 167 incidents of shooting as well as attacks on Tamil fishermen had taken place since 1991, the State said that 85 fishermen had died and 180 suffered injuries. Similarly, 146 boats and 746 Tamil fishermen were apprehended by the Sri Lankan Navy since 2006. Of them, 131 boats and 741 fishermen were repatriated.
The government also said that “the inhumane action of the Sri Lankan Navy in shooting, manhandling or assaulting” Tamil fishermen was against the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea 1982 which states that fishermen apprehended by a foreign country on charges of poaching or illegal fishing should be treated in a humane manner.
Stating that there was enough evidence to prove that Katchatheevu, a small barren uninhabited island spread over 285.2 acres in the Palk Strait off Rameswaram, was part of India historically, the Government said that two maritime agreements entered between the Centre and Sri Lanka in 1974 and 1976 ceding away the island and the adjoining seas was the root cause for the problems faced by Tamil fishermen.
The possible solution to the problems was re-examining those two agreements. In the meantime, the Centre could get Katchatheevu and adjacent seas on ‘Lease in Perpetuity' for fishing and other activities associated with it.
Such a move would serve the double purpose of upholding Sri Lanka's sovereignty as well as permitting Tamil fishermen to carry on their vocation without any problems.
The government also suggested implementation of ‘Licensed fishing method' through which licensed Tamil fishermen could be allowed to fish in Sri Lankan waters up to five nautical miles.
It further stated that Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had written a series of letters to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking restoration of traditional fishing rights of the Tamil fishermen.
The counter also listed out international treaties signed between various countries such as China and Japan, Australia and Indonesia, China and South Korea and China and Vietnam for granting traditional fishing rights to fishermen in disputed waters and stated that the Centre alone could not deny such rights to Tamil fishermen by claiming that the words ‘traditional rights' found in the 1974 agreement does not include fishing rights.
“The area thus available for fishing near Rameswaram is only 6 nautical miles portion”
“No proper fishing grounds are available in the area which also has rocks and coral reef” (Source:The Hindu)