It is ironic that a section of the people in the country are accusing the government for giving in to external pressure to refrain from taking action against those who plunder country’s resources while the country is commemorating its “Independence” from foreign domination. The fishermen in the Northern Province have been agitating against their South Indian counterparts for bottom trawling in the Sri Lankan seas while accusing that the Sri Lankan navy was protecting the Indians.
This new turn of events is being evident after the navy had intervened and averted a possible clash between Sri Lanka and Indian fishermen when 10 local fiberglass boats had surrounded an Indian trawler that had trespassed into the Sri Lankan seas on February 1.
The local fishermen who had never resorted to violent confrontations with the Indians in the past seem to have thought it fit to take the law into their hands following the death of two of their colleagues in the sea days ago for which they suspect the Indians. During a protest after the bodies of the two fishermen from Supparmadam - a fishing village some 14 km from Point Pedro - were washed ashore on January 31, they had vowed to find solutions on their own, if the authorities cannot ensure the safety of the fishermen and their fishing equipment from Indian intruders. Ironically it was South Indian fishermen along with their politicians who had been accusing the Sri Lankan navy for harassing them including shooting and destroying their fishing equipment recently.
Meanwhile a Jaffna court, on January 25, ordered the release of 56 Indian fishermen, who were detained for fishing in the Sri Lanka’s territorial waters. The fishermen were taken into custody in December, and eight boats were also taken under the custody of Sri Lankan authorities.Referring to the release of the fishermen Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said in a tweet‘Commend the work of High Commissioner Gopal Baglay and his team in securing the release.’
Questioning the economic independence of Sri Lanka, a Bangaluru-based website said that the court order for the release of fishermen came as the Indian authorities urged Sri Lanka to release them on humanitarian grounds in the backdrop of economic assistance talks that were going on at the time.
Indo-Lanka fishermen conflict which always flares up with the occasional intrusion of Indian fishermen into the Sri Lankan waters has a long history. There have been newspaper reports on the issue since 1960, despite various efforts having been taken by the authorities of both countries to prevent them. During the war between the armed forces and the LTTE Indian fishermen had a field day in the Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar as their Sri Lankan counterparts were restricted from venturing into the sea by the Sri Lankan defence authorities since the LTTE boats used to transport war materials mingling with the boats of the fishermen.
During those turbulent days, Indian fishermen occasionally accused that the Sri Lankan navy had been harassing them shooting at their boats and destroying their nets. It had been then a political issue over which India exerted immense pressure on the Sri Lankan authorities. Sri Lankan Tamil leaders hence did not want to antagonize the Tamil Nadu leaders some of whom happened to be the owners of trawlers that engaged in illegal fishing and fishing methods in the Sri Lankan waters. It was after the end of the war and the restrictions against the local fisher folk were removed that the friction between the fishing communities of both countries surfaced in a considerable manner.
The issue was discussed between the two countries for the past decade, at various levels - between the heads of governments, ministerial level and between fishermen organizations in both countries. In fact, there is nothing to discuss in this regard if the Indian fishermen followed the international maritime laws and refrained from trespassing into the Sri Lankan waters.
The Sri Lankan Tamil leaders who stood for the Indian fishermen when they plundered Sri Lankan marine resources during the war are now demonstrating against the high-handed behaviour of the latter. In October 2021, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) legislators M.A. Sumanthiran and Shanakiyan Rasamanickam led a large sea rally. Tamil National People’s Front Leader and Jaffna MP Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam led a protest against Indian trawlers and Sri Lanka’s Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda. And Ponnambalam has sought the UN’s urgent intervention to resolve the fisheries conflict.
The onus to resolve the crisis is purely on the leaders of Tamil Nadu and the Indian Central Government. Only remedy is them taking firm action to prevent their fishermen from entering Sri Lankan waters. All other negotiations and parleys are nothing other than buying time and hoodwinking the Sri Lankan nation, especially the northern fishermen in order to plunder their resources.