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Release of Sri Lankan Fishermen Jailed in India Delayed as Chennai Court Orders Further Extension Of Remand Until March 23

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By P.K Balachandran

As a first step towards defusing the fishermen’s agitation in Tamil Nadu, the Sri Lankan and Indian governments on Thursday agreed to simultaneously release all fishermen in each other’s custody.

While Sri Lanka will release 85 Indian fishermen, India will release 19 Sri Lankan fishermen. However, a court in Chennai on Thursday put paid to the immediate release of Sri Lankan fishermen from Tamil Nadu jails, when it extended their remand till March 23.

The two governments had acted after the Indian Vice President, Hamid Ansari, met the Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena in Indonesia on the sidelines of the Indian Ocean summit. In Colombo, Indian High Commissioner ,Taranjit Singh Sandhu, met Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and pressed him to take action.

The Sri Lankan navy denied that its men had killed Britjo or that the incident took place in Indian waters. But it said that it is ready for an inquiry based on GPS data from the concerned vessels.

Be that as it may, looking at the issue on hand, the agitating fishermen Tamil Nadu are unlikely to react enthusiastically to the announcement on the release of fishermen as 134 boats of their boats still remain in Sri Lankan custody, said S.P.Anthonymuthu, Convenor of the Indo-Lanka Fishermen’s Welfare Forum.

These trawlers had cost their owners several hundreds of thousands of Indian rupees. The Sri Lankan government had introduced the system of seizing and not returning the trawlers of the poachers in the belief that this would be a deterrent to poaching. While this has reduced poaching, it has not prevented it.

Thousands of trawlers from the Tamil Nadu coast from Nagapattinam to Rameswaran poach in Sri Lankan waters daily with impunity, unmindful of the legal implications and the harm they are doing to the livelihood of Sri Lankan fishermen who, incidentally, also happen to be Tamil Catholics.

Worrying Spin Offs The escalating agitation is worrying people in Sri Lanka who are working for a permanent solution to the India-Sri Lanka fishing problem. S.P.Anthonymuthu, said that if the agitation is not contained by applying a balm to soothe the feeling of Tamil Nadu fishermen, India-Sri Lanka relations will suffer deeply ,and all Sri Lankans across the ethnic divide will stand to lose.

“I met the Minister of Fisheries, Mahinda Amaraweera , and told him that bad relations with India will affect Indian aid to Sri Lanka which is significant. The people of Indian Origin and the Sri Lankan Tamils will be particularly hard hit. India has constructed 50,000 houses for the war-affected Tamils; is building houses and a hospital for the plantation laborers of Indian origin; and has set up an emergency ambulance service from which all communities in South Sri Lanka are benefitting. I asked the Minister to immediately take steps to assuage the feelings of the Rameswaram fishermen by announcing the return of the detained boats,” Anthonymuthu said.

“Their detention is causing congestion in Sri Lankan harbors. They are rotting for lack of maintenance. They are neither used nor returned to their owners. They are a burden on Sri Lanka even as their detention is not preventing Tamil Nadu fishermen from poaching,” Anthonymuthu said.

Recall Diplomats N.Devadas, President of the Rameswaram fishermen’s Association, told this writer that India should ask all Sri Lankan diplomats to leave the country till the issue is settled satisfactorily.

“We want India and Sri Lanka to stop this drama of friendship and take this issue seriously. What is the use of having Ambassadors if they cannot address the peoples’ pressing issues?” he asked. Devadas recalled the seriousness with which the government of India took the case of the killing of two Kerala fishermen by Italian marines in Indian waters and wondered why in the case of the killing of Tamil fishermen, New Delhi is nonchalant.

The Italian marines were arrested and a case of old-blooded murder is still on in an Indian court. U.Arulanandam ,President of the Alliance for Release of Innocent Fishermen, recalled that in 1985, the Indian Coast Guard had arrested a Sri Lankan naval officer for killing two Rameswaram fishermen, Susaiappar and Alphonse, in the Gulf of Mannar.

On January 8, 1985, a India Coast Guard vessel intercepted and boarded the Sri Lankan naval vessel in question, and brought its commander to Mandapam, though he was later let off. “When there are precedents for strong action, why isn’t the Indian government acting,” Devadas asked.

Courtesy:New Indian Express

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