The attention of the Tamil Nadu authorities to the intrusion of Indian fishermen to Sri Lankan waters is a farce that is stretched beyond credible borders, states the Indian Express in a special column titled ‘It’s a fishy sort of tale’ by V. Sudarshan, published yesterday (27) on the current dispute between Sri Lanka and India.
The number of Tamil Nadu fishing boats that intrude each day into Sri Lankan waters could vary from 10 to 700 or more. All of them that cluster around the Sri Lankan coastline in places like Point Pedro, Kankesanthurai, Delft Island, Thalaimannar, have first to cross the international boundary.
‘Even though there are no signboards out there it is not as if our fishermen do not know when they are in Sri Lankan waters. At the shortest point between our two countries it is 18 nautical miles. That can be covered in three hours. With a Global Positioning System that each of our fishing vessels ought to have, it is impossible to wander off course.’
With the ferrying of explosives, arms and material for war for the LTTE now over, these Tamil Nadu fishing boats have become a huge source of smuggling from mini-lorries, motor cycles and currency to mobile phones, computer spares, medical supplies and fishing equipment.
Now that the threat of the LTTE has vanished, Sri Lankan fishermen venture out to sea to reclaim their livelihood. Should we be surprised if they assert their rights over their own territorial waters? the report asks.
Following is the full report:
It’s a fishy sort of tale
Every night the radar systems in Sri Lanka pick up the presence of Indian trawlers off its coastline. Sometimes our boats go as far south as Trincomalee. To cluster around the Sri Lankan coastline in places like Point Pedro, Kankesanthurai, Delft Island, Thalaimannar, our boats have first to cross the international boundary.
Sri Lanka takes satellite pictures of these trawlers dotting their territorial waters. On the radar screen shots the boats looks like countless stars twinkling in the dark night sky. Every day they count the number of boats they have a visual confirmation of. In the case of some trawlers they also manage to take down registration numbers. On some days the intrusions detected by the Sri Lankans are minimal.
On January 27 and 28 they managed, for instance to detect only 10 Indian boats. Our fishermen must have taken a well-deserved break from their exertions. On February 19, for instance, they detected as many as 700. It must be quite a sight to see that many boats speckling the waters and not flying the tricolour.
Every day the defence attaché in Colombo is given the day’s list of sea incursions. Everyday, I am told, the Deputy High Commission in Chennai faxes the same list to the Director Fisheries, Tamil Nadu, whose office no doubt maintains records of ownership. From January 1 this year till the date of writing this the approximate number of Indian boats that were sighted in Sri Lankan waters was 6,466. Of which the Sri Lankans managed to take down the registration numbers of 547. Don’t ask me what happens when the fisheries department gets the Sri Lankan list. It probably dutifully gets filed in the dustbin.
Usually the matter ends there. But on some other days the farce is stretched beyond credible limits. The other day, for instance, we saw the ridiculous sight of the DMK patriarch’s daughter Kanimozhi being “arrested” by police who report to her father after she participated in a protest on behalf of the fisherfolk from Tamil Nadu. Some days prior to that, BJP’s Sushma Swaraj made a visit to Pushpavanam so she could be part of a political photo opportunity. Actor Vijay also made a fire and brimstone speech against Sri Lanka there. Now the BJP has an unenviably poor presence in Tamil Nadu, yet it senses the opportunity ahead of the assembly elections. In the days ahead, more politicians will gravitate towards that shoreline.
By the last count, Tamil Nadu’s fishing community is about 7,00,000 strong in 591 fishing villages strung along the coastline of 1,076 km stretching from Pulicat, north of Chennai, down to Kanyakumari. They set out to ply their trade in almost 60,000 craft. Even during the Eelam war, according to Sri Lankan estimates, as much as a quarter of these boats were regularly detected in their waters.
Even though there are no signboards out there it is not as if our fishermen do not know when they are in Sri Lankan waters. At the shortest point between our two countries it is 18 nautical miles. That can be covered in three hours. With a Global Positioning System that each of our fishing vessels ought to have, it is impossible to wander off course. Even mobile phones come with GPS these days. What our fishermen have been known to do in those waters is not exactly confined to fishing. A partial list of seizures in the past reveals that following have been plentiful in the Palk Straits: Petrol, diesel, mini lorries, Tata Sumos, Traveras, auto rickshaws, gas cylinders, tipper lorries, TVS 50 mopeds, Hero Honda motorcycles, Eicher vans, beedi bundles, rice, currency, batteries, jeeps, watches, ready made dresses, Tamil and English movie CDs, soap, provisions, condensed milk, mobile phones, computer spares, milk, cameras, flasks, tractors, medical supplies, dried sea cucumber, fishing equipment and, in one interesting instance, local arrack. I am not even listing the other perennials during the war: detonators, ball bearings, gelatin sticks, AK 56s, TNT (explosive), Yamaha outboard motor, LTTE uniform material, steel pipes, chemicals to produce cyanide, GPS systems, sulphuric acid, credit cards, mobile cards, aluminium ingots (to make ammunition)….
It was a regular supply chain. Of course now that the war is over the traffic on non-lethal items could well have picked up. During the war Sri Lankan fishermen were dissuaded from fishing in their own waters because of the camouflage potential they offered to LTTE fighters.
Now that the threat of LTTE has vanished, Sri Lankan fishermen venture out to sea to reclaim their livelihood. Should we be surprised if they assert their rights over their own territorial waters?