With the Sri Lankan Navy apprehending a number of Indian fishermen recently, India on Thursday said it is in close touch with the Lankan government to ensure consular access and facilitate the early release of the fishermen and their boats, the NDTV reported.
At an online briefing, Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said, "We have seen reports about apprehension of 36 Indian fishermen and five of their fishing vessels on December 14 and 15 by the Sri Lankan Navy. Similar information has also been received from the government of Tamil Nadu."
The government attaches high priority to this issue and we are in close touch with the government of Sri Lanka through our High Commission in Colombo and the Consulate in Jaffna to verify the information and to ensure consular access and facilitate the early release of the fishermen and their boats, he said in response to a question.
The fishermen issue and the matter of fishing boats have been on the agenda of bilateral discussion between India and Sri Lanka for many years, Mr Srivastava pointed out.
The two governments have been seized of this essentially humanitarian matter at high levels and there exists a common understanding to handle the matter in a humanitarian way, he said.
"There are well established bilateral mechanisms between India and Sri Lanka for discussions and cooperation on the issue of fishermen. Since these could not be convened due to ongoing COVID-19 related restrictions, it has now been mutually agreed to hold a meeting of the bilateral Joint Working Group (JWG) on Fisheries through the virtual format on December 30," Srivastava said.
"The JWG, which is led on our side by Secretary, Department of Fisheries, is expected to address all the issues relating to the subject of fisheries between India and Sri Lanka including release of apprehended fishermen and fishing boats, modalities of communication between relevant authorities on the two sides, cooperation in dealing with issues related to livelihood of the fishing communities on both sides and such other matters as are mutually agreed upon," he said.