Retrieval of Katchatheevu only solution: Fishers
Fisherfolk appeal for quick diplomatic decision to create a peaceful atmosphere.
CHENNAI: Often apprehended by the Sri Lankan Navy for crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) in the Palk Strait, the fishermen from the region claim that they court apprehension often even as they are drifted away due to heavy winds which enforce a heavy loss.
The fisherfolks urge the government that the retrieval of the Katchatheevu would only give them solace which would also facilitate them to fish in the rich resourced Palk Strait.
Palk Strait is a narrow strip of water separating the state of Tamil Nadu in India from the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. The bay,which is 137 km in length and varies from 64 to 137 km in width,is divided by the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL).
Bordering it are five Indian districts in Tamil Nadu and three Sri Lankan districts in their Northern province.
India and Sri Lanka signed maritime boundary agreements in 1974 and 1976 defining the boundaries between the two countries. Since both nations have been fishing closely in Palk Strait (between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka) there is a continuous conflict of interest between the fishing communities.
To contain the problem an agreement was made but it seems theproblem has been continuing still. As the Katchatheevu has been under the control of the island nation.
However, the recent arrest of 16 fishermen from Tamil Nadu and Puducherry by the Sri Lankan Navy had increased the demand to rewrite the boundary agreement and a lengthy discussion has been underway among the fishers.
According to researchers, the Sri Lankan Navy personnel quite often detain several fishermen from India for crossing into their waters claiming that theyintentionally cross the territory line for good catch since the Katchatheevu surrounding in the Palk gulf is rich with sea wealth.
The researchers also counter that a lot of these fishermen are also unaware of the fact that they had crossed on to another nation. The waters provide means of their livelihood as that was the only thing they care about.
However, the fishers claim that among the arrested Indian fishermen, most of them have drifted away due to heavy wind flow and thus, are unaware of crossing the borderline.
“We ask the fellow fishers from the region to be aware of the IMBL which has also been recorded in their GPS but we can not blame nature for any reason as most of them get drifted away due to heavy wind flow,” asserts A Tahjudeen, General Secretary of Tamil Nadu Meenavar Peravai and Mechanised Boat Owners Association president.
Tahjudeen said the distance between Kodiyakarai to IMBL is 28 km (one nautical mile = 1.8 km) while from Athirampattinam 41 km, Thondi 34 km, Thiruppalaikudi 47km, Pamban 18 km, Rameshwaran 16 km and Danushkodi 11 km and there are a lot of chances for the Indian fishermen drift towards Kankesanthurai, Oor karavettuthurai and Neduntheevu areas in Sri Lanka as the distance is comparatively less.
He also said, despite the apprehended fishermen being released after the completion of legal aspects and diplomatic talks between the two nations, the boats seize dare abandoned in the island nation and many of them perish leaving a heavy loss to the fishermen.
“There are as many as 108 boats still kept ‘decaying’ in the island nation since 2018 and our fight to release them go futile. Still, we could legally fight and recover 20 boats during these times,” Tahjudeen said. He appealed for a permanent solution after a diplomatic talk and a peaceful fishing atmosphere could only rescue the fishermen and their livelihood.
Call is for patience as Sri Lanka’s only demand is to stop bottom-line trawling
While the initiations for amicably settling the problems between India and Sri Lanka are on the optimistic track, it is time fishermen from both the sides to be patient, said M Ilango, Chairperson, National Fisherfolk Forum (NFF) and member of delegation participated in the bilateral talks on the issue.
Ilango said, the major demand of the Sri Lankan officials and the fishermen was to avoid using the bottom line trawling, the fishing method used by fishermen from Tamil Nadu, the practice scoops out eggs, young fishes, and other marine organisms that eventually die and are thrown back into the sea.
During the bilateral talks in 2017, the Sri Lankan side said that after Sri Lanka’s civil war ended in 2009, the Sri Lankan fishermen started voicing concern about depleting catches, owing to incessant trawling by the Indian fishermen.
They charged that the Indian side of the IMBL already ravaged by decades of high profit yielding bottom trawling, they flock to the Sri Lankan side, with relatively less damage and therefore, more marine resources.
“But on our side, we assured them of controlling the bottom-line trawling by adopting several latest technologies in fishing and the steps are on. As a part of this, the union government has initiated steps to distribute 2000 mechanised boats to the Indian fishermen to with the latest equipment for deep sea fishing and the process are underway,” Ilango said.
Ilango also claimed that, India, being the major supporter for Sri Lanka during their recent poor economic condition, the recent diplomatic talks by the External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar with the island nations has brought hope among the fishermen community as there is a bright chance of re-writing the Indo-Lankan Maritime Boundary Line agreement 1976 which would bring back the rights to fishing in Katchatheevu islet.
“Till then, we need to wait,” he said.
Tiff among local fishers causing problems domestically
Despite several problems with the neighbouring country, the fishers undergo a series of issues created among themselves that prevents the peaceful fishing environment and the fishers have approached the Fisheries Minister to obtain permission to stay in the neighbouring respective fishing harbour on a mutual basis.
According to A Tahjudeen, the General Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Meenavar Peravai, when the fishermen from Thanjavur attempt to land at the nearby Nagai harbour for safety sake during rough weather, they are denied permission. This at times truns into clashes between local fishers and those who are from the other district.
This is because of the tiff between the country boats and the mechanised boats due to the enactment of the Tamil Nadu Marine Fisheries Regulation Act in 1983, which stated that trawlers or mechanised boats should not catch fish within three nautical miles from the coast.
It also stipulated that the three-nautical-mile area would exclusively be reserved for artisanal or traditional fishermen who use country boats.
At times, the mechanised boat fishers, unaware of the distance, start operating the trawlers that leads to the damage of the nets of the traditional fishermen that ends up in scuffle most of the time.
This prolonged enmity prevents fishermen from other districts land in shores from where they do not come
“If the Thanjavur fishermen were allowed to venture into fishing from Nagapattinam harbour, the expenditure for fuel would be reduced enormously and this is a long pending demand of the fishermen from Thanjavur,” Tahjudeen said and appealed to the government to provide proper instruction through the fisheries department to mechanised boats and initiate proper action against those who violate the norms.
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