N Sathiya Moorthy
Tamil Nadu’s hosting of the much-publicised and even more needed/delayed talks between the State’s fisher representatives and their Sri Lankan counterparts on 27 January, followed by the local fishers commitment not to deploy vessels, gears and fishing methods banned in Sri Lanka for 30 days to prove their sincerity and seriousness has set the tone for taking the gains of the Chennai negotiations forward. Independent of the talks and also each other, the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) first, and the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) later, began arresting fishers from the other country in the days that followed, making the latter’s release a condition-precedent of sorts for taking forward the negotiations, as promised, at Colombo in March.
Yet, teething troubles of the kind, almost from the commencement of the idea of a fishers’ talks blessed by the Governments concerned, did not dampen their spirits in particular. It has only been enhanced, since. Interestingly, most fisher representatives on either side were new compared to an NGO-driven round of negotiations in 2010-11. Though the present batch of negotiators did not sign any relatively detailed agreement of the kind as in 2010, the general mood on either side of the ‘fisher-divide’ was one of bonhomie and mutual accommodation, as in the past.
The Chennai meeting should be noted for the specifics, of what it achieved and what it did not – rather, what it did not actually aim to achieve. First and foremost, Governments across the Palk Strait, namely those of Sri Lanka, India and Tamil Nadu, ‘quasi-official status’ on the talks with the participation of their officials. Tamil Nadu was also represented by the Fisheries Minister, though he and his team, were there only as ‘observers’. So did officials of the Governments of India and Sri Lanka.
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