The central government of India has recognized the need to create greater awareness among Indian fishermen to avoid crossing over into Sri Lankan waters for their own safety and security and asked the state governments to sensitize Indian fishermen to respect the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL).
Delivering a statement in Rajya Sabha yesterday regarding alleged attacks on Indian fishermen by Sri Lankan Navy, India's Minister of External Affairs by Salman Khurshid said the Indian government attaches the highest importance to the safety, security and welfare of Indian fishermen.
The need for creating greater awareness among our fishermen to avoid crossing over into Sri Lankan waters for their own safety and security has been felt. In this context, the government is working with the appropriate State governments on the need to sensitize Indian fishermen to respect the International Maritime Boundary Line, he added.
He said the Indian government through diplomatic channels, immediately takes up the issues relating to incidents of firing on or arrests of Indian fishermen with the Sri Lankan government to ensure that the Sri Lankan Navy acts with restraint and the fishermen are treated in a humane and pragmatic manner.
The Minister recalled that India has reached an agreement with Sri Lanka in October 2008 to put in place practical arrangements to deal with bona fide Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen crossing the IMBL.
He pointed out to the Upper House that as part of the agreement there would be no firing on Indian fishing vessels and Indian fishing vessels would not tread into sensitive areas designated by the Government of Sri Lanka along its coastline.
He said since the agreement the number of incidents have come down.
Khurshid said that under this process, if the fishermen admitted guilt to crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line, then they will be released. But, based on their legal counsel, the Indian fishermen have twice refused to admit guilt and therefore their custody has been extended.
Commending their move, Khurshid said if fishermen accepted guilt, it would have grave international legal implications for India.
Minister Khurshid told the Rajya Sabha that he took up the issue with his Sri Lankan counterpart Prof. G. L. Peiris when the Sri Lankan Minister met him on August 19 and asked to expedite the release of arrested Indian fishermen.
During the meeting Minister Peiris has told his Indian counterpart that there should be a stringent measure to effectively deter the Indian fishermen continually invading the Sri Lankan waters and his government has decided to prosecute the fishermen arrested for poaching and slap fines on them.
The Minister has explained that thousands of Indian fishermen in 400-500 boats poach in the Sri Lankan waters daily taking the resources away and damaging the marine life and therefore, there is very strong pressure on the Sri Lankan government to take action to preserve the livelihood of island's fishermen.
Khurshid said the Indian government is working with the concerned state governments on the need to sensitize Indian fishermen to respect the International Maritime Boundary Line.
The central government has also requested the Government of Tamil Nadu to finalize the dates for a proposed meeting of the representatives of Fishermen's Associations from India and Sri Lanka at the earliest.
"Government continues to remain engaged with the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that fishermen on both sides can continue to pursue their livelihood in a safe, secure and sustainable manner," the Indian Minister said.