Recent attacks on Indian fishermen by the Sri Lanka Navy are mere allegations sans any proof, the Union External Affairs Ministry of India said.
Deepak Mittal, Director, BSM (Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Maldives) Division, Ministry of External Affairs, made the submission in a counter affidavit filed in reply to a couple of contempt of court applications filed in the Madras High Court Bench against the Union Cabinet Secretary, National Security Advisor, Defence Secretary, External Affairs Secretary and Deputy Director-General of Indian Coast Guard.
However, even if the alleged attacks had happened, it would have taken place only in Lankan waters, counter affidavit said.
Director (BSM) further said the reports of alleged attacks on Indian fishermen have not taken place in Indian waters which have strictly kept under vigil by the navy and the coast guard and no intrusion of Lankan vessels into Indian waters have taken place.
After the filing of contempt petitions in November 2011, deaths of only four fishermen were reported by fisheries department at Mandapam.
Pointing out that the fishermen communities on either side of the Palk Bay were Tamils, Mr. Mittal said the problems faced by fishermen in both countries emanated from their fishing vessels straying into each other's waters. The Sri Lankan authorities had claimed that a very large number of Indian fishing vessels entered their waters regularly.
Hence, it had been agreed to convene a meeting of the India-Sri Lanka Joint Working Group on Fisheries (ISJWGF) as early as possible besides resuming dialogue between representatives of fishermen's associations of both countries to understand each other's problems better and to arrive at a workable solution to the issues involved.
Discussions were also under way on signing a Memorandum of Understanding on Development and Cooperation in the field of Fisheries with the Sri Lankan government. These discussions gain significance in the light of a drop of around 90 per cent in the number of Indian fishermen arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy ever since the issuance of the India-Sri Lanka Joint Statement on Fishing on October 26, 2008.
The statement issued during the visit of Basil Rajapaksa, Member of Parliament and Senior Advisor to the Sri Lankan President, reflected practical arrangements put in place to deal with bona fide fishermen crossing the IMBL. It was agreed that there would be no firing on fishing vessels and that Indian fishing vessels would not tread into sensitive areas designated by the Sri Lankan government.
Further stating that the Tamil Nadu government had issued a Government Order on July 10, 2000 notifying that the crossing of the IMBL would constitute an offence and attract fine, Mr. Mittal said the Centre was working with the State government in order to sensitise the Indian fishermen on the need to respect the IMBL and not stray into Sri Lankan waters in the interest of their own safety and security.
The present contempt applications were filed by a lawyer B. Stalin alleging disobedience of an interim order passed by the court on October 14, in a public interest litigation petition filed by him, to provide sufficient number of Coast Guard vessels on the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) and to ensure that the Indian fishermen were not subjected to atrocities by the Sri Lankan Navy.
Denying disobedience of court orders, the Director said the IMBL in the Palk Bay was regularly monitored round the clock by one ship, two Interceptor Boats (IB), two Air Cushion Vehicles (ACV) and two Interceptor Crafts (IC). There was also regular air surveillance by a Coast Guard aircraft. Besides, the Indian Navy had deployed a ship round the clock besides carrying out air surveillance.
After the interim orders, the Coast Guard diverted one more ship from the IMBL off West Bengal Coast to the Palk Bay. This was in addition to tasking of additional ACVs, IBs and ICs though the general weather conditions in Palk Bay were not conducive for these vessels. The Coast Guard station at Mandapam had been deploying these small vessels during sustainable sea conditions.