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JVP calls for measures to end fishing by Indian vessels in Sri Lankan waters

13 October 2015 06:32 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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By Dr. Steve Creech
On Friday last week the  Vijitha Herath M.P., opened the first ever debate in Parliament on the challenges facing the Sri Lankan government as it continues to grapple with the thorny issue of persistent illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing by Indian fishing vessels in Sri Lankan waters. In the clearest terms yet the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) national list MP from Gampaha contextualised the issue in terms of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, jurisprudence and foreign policy. In his opening statement he inquired of the President, the Justice Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs about the actions that are being taken to resolve an issue that directly affects the livelihoods of over 200,000 Sri Lankans living in the North, North-Western and Western Provinces. 

In his opening remarks the Vijitha Herath M.P., drew Parliament’s attention to the bilateral agreements entered into by the governments of India and Sri Lanka, demarcating the International Maritime Boundary Line between the two countries in 1974 (Bay of Bengal) and 1976 (Gulf of Mannar). He also drew the attention of the House to Sri Lanka’s and India’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on 10th December 1982.  The UNCLOS defines the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for the jurisdiction, exploitation and management of marine resources. 

In view of these agreements and international conventions the MP asked the House why the government of Sri Lanka continued to permit thousands of Indian vessels to fish illegally in Sri Lankan waters every day. Sri Lanka’s sovereignty over the coastal waters in the Gulf of Mannar, Palk Bay and Bay of Bengal has been agreed and is not contested by the Indian central government. Why then does the government continue to permit the gross infringement of Sri Lanka’s sovereign right to manage and exploit marine resources in the Bay of Bengal and the Gulf of Mannar, he asked? Further substance to this argument can be found in Article 27 sub section (3) of the Constitution which says ‘the State shall safeguard the independence, sovereignty, unity and the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka’. The  Parliament, the President and the Cabinet of Ministers are thereby bound to safeguard the sovereignty of Sri Lanka.

Questioning the government’s legal response to persistent IUU fishing by Indian vessels in Sri Lankan waters, MP Herath the  Justice  Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe why - when the press reports that Indian fishing vessels are being arrested for fishing illegally in Sri Lankan waters - is the Attorney General’s office charging Indian fishermen for immigration violations under the Immigration and Emigration Act (1948)? The member pointed out that not only does this create an unnecessary ‘humanitarian situation’ wherein Indian fishermen are remanded indefinitely before being released without charge, but it is unnecessary in law. Furthermore the unnecessary ‘humanitarian situation’ is as he noted, ruthlessly exploited by the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu to the detriment of Sri Lanka’s image in India and abroad. 

In 1979 the Sri Lankan government promulgated the Fisheries (Regulation of Foreign Fishing Boats) Act, which as its name suggests is a series of legal provisions for the regulation of foreign fishing boats. Section 4 of the Act 4 says that “no foreign fishing boat shall be used for fishing or related activities in Sri Lanka waters except under the authority of a permit issued under section 6, Section 13 sub section (2a) stating thatany authorized officer, where he has reasonable grounds to believe that an offence has been committed under the Act may, with or without a warrant seize and detain any boat, used in, or in connection with, the commission of the offence including any fishing gear, fish or aquatic plants, equipment, stores and cargo found on board, or belonging to, the boat, or seize any fishing gear abandoned by the boat’. Given the provisions of the Fisheries (Regulation of Foreign Fishing Boats) Act, Herath questioned Parliament as to why Sri Lanka’s judiciary is unwilling to charge and prosecute the skipper / boat owner in Sri Lanka’s High Court, preferring instead to indefinitely detain and then releasing without charge Indian fishermen?

Concluding his introductory remarks MP Herath drew the attention of Mangala Samaraweera,  Minister of Foreign Affairs to the demonstrations in Jaffna last month, when thousands of Sri Lankan  fishermen took to the streets to protest against persistent IUU fishing by Indian fishing vessels. In their statement to the press, Jaffna fishermen unanimously rejected Indian Prime Minister Modi’s proposal for more talks between Sri Lankan fishermen and Tamil Nadu trawler owners, he said. The resolution of bilateral issues between neighbouring countries is not, as fishermen’s leaders pointed out, a matter for ordinary citizens to resolve. The JVP MP asked Minister Samaraweera about what his staff are saying to their counterparts in New Delhi, to bring an end to the suffering of 200,000 Sri Lankans dependent on fishing for their livelihood? 

In a show of unity on behalf of the Tamil People, the leaders of both the Tamil National Alliance and the Eelam People’s Democratic Party spoke in support of the JVP’s motion, which urged the national unity government to adopt effective measure to secure Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, enable the rule of law and lobby New Delhi to bring to an end IUU fishing by Indian vessels in Sri Lankan waters. 

The writer is a freelance fisheries consultant. 
He can be contacted at oddfish@slt.lk   
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See Kapruka's top selling online shopping categories such as Toys, Grocery, Flowers, Birthday Cakes, Fruits, Chocolates, Clothing and Electronics. Also see Kapruka's unique online services such as Money Remittence,News, Courier/Delivery, Food Delivery and over 700 top brands. Also get products from Amazon & Ebay via Kapruka Gloabal Shop into Sri Lanka.