Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe last week reiterated that the Government would not grant permission for Indian fishermen to encroach into Sri Lankan waters, but added that a solution would be reached before the end of this year.
The Premier is reported to have made this statement in Parliament last week.
Furthermore, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had also written to her Sri Lankan counterpart, Minister Mangala Samaraweera to take steps to release all Indian fishermen who have been detained in Sri Lanka.
The struggle between the Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen has been a never ending one with fishermen from both countries being arrested and then released at frequent intervals.
The Tamil Nadu fishermen have been accused of encroaching into Sri Lankan waters which had then resulted in their arrest and detention in Sri Lanka. These fishermen are then released and sent back to their homeland. However, their boats and equipment are not given back.
Jaffna fishermen claim that the encroachment of Tamil Nadu fishermen result in huge losses since they use a method called ‘bottom trawling’ which is deemed illegal.
The reason for this is simple. This mechanism not only takes away the fish, but also destroys the coral reef and all the natural habitat of the fish. This methodology also destroys the feeding ground of the fish, which results in fish from other areas not swimming into Sri Lankan waters.
As a result, aquatic resources in the Sri Lankan seas particularly in the Northern region have reduced drastically over the years. This is an issue which had been going for years, especially after the end of the war.
On the other hand, the conflict had given rise to fresh calls by the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa Jayaram to get back Kachchathivu from Sri Lanka.
It was said that the islet was traditionally used by Indian fishermen. However, things have been different after India handed over the islet to Sri Lanka, and naturally so.
The local fishermen have taken their pleas and demands to the government, the Indian High Commission and to other institutions that have been looking into their welfare. Both Governments have expressed their concerns and have pledged to solve the issue once and for all.
Several rounds of talks were held at Government level and at other levels, which did not yield any fruitful results. Despite certain agreements reached and assurances given, fishermen from both sides have been caught crossing maritime borders.
Sri Lanka had time and again released Indian fishermen, mostly as a goodwill gesture. There have been times when, according to the Sri Lankan Government, not a single Tamil Nadu fisherman remained detained in the country.
This cycle has been going on for years without any permanent solution. The issue has widened the gap between the people of Tamil Nadu and Jaffna. Ironically, it was Tamil Nadu which voiced its concern and support for the people in the Wanni during the final stages of the war. However, this issue seems to have changed the scenario.
The assurance given by the Premier that a solution would be reached before this year ends is a positive and a welcoming sign.
It is important also to understand the fact that even during the conflict the Northern fishermen had to face various obstacles in order to earn a livelihood.
The unstable security situation resulted in the Navy and the security forces adopting strict security measures for the fishermen, thus restricting their time out at sea.
The fishermen were given special passes, and were only allowed to set sail at specific times. In addition, they were also instructed to return before a specific time. This affected their livelihood.
Even though the post war period opened all doors for these fishermen, the encroachment of Tamil Nadu fishermen and the usage of banned fishing methods have had a great impact on their livelihoods once again.
It is not only important that the fishermen issue is sorted, but also to assess and ascertain the environmental impact that this had created.
If the aquatic resources of the Sri Lankan waters have been destroyed, then it is a matter of great concern. It is therefore necessary for the government to look at all possible aspects of this issue and ensure that the Sri Lankan waters regain the resources that have been feeding the Northern fishermen for generations.