The Tamil Nadu government, which is keen on resolving the long-standing conflict in the Palk Bay, has been asked by the External Affairs Ministry to submit a list of probable participants from the fishing community in the State and tentative dates for the proposed talks between its fisherfolk and that of the Northern Province in Sri Lanka.
“We will be shortly sending our reply,” said sources in the government. Also, in response to another request of the State government for a meeting of the India-Sri Lanka Joint Working Group (JWG) on Fisheries, the Ministry, about a week ago, informed the former that it had recently addressed the matter with the neighbouring country.
The proposed talks hold significance against the backdrop of the arrest of 55 Tamil Nadu fishermen and seizure of eight trawlers by the Sri Lankan Navy on Sunday. Fishermen in Rameswaram staged a protest on Monday demanding the release of the arrested members.
While the last round of the fishermen-level talks took place in New Delhi in November 2016, the JWG met in December 2020 through virtual mode. Between 2010 and 2016, several rounds of meetings between the representatives of the fisherfolk from the two countries were held.
The Joint Working Group held four meetings since December 2016. In September 2020, during the virtual bilateral summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa agreed to “continue engagement to address the issues related to fishermen through regular consultation and bilateral channels.”
For the five to six months, the State government had been following up with the Centre both in respect of the fishermen-level talks and the JWG meeting, the sources point out. The impact of the pandemic was said to have come in the way of the group to hold a conventional meeting.
As for accelerating the pace of implementation of the deep-sea fishing scheme, which was launched in July 2017 with a view to resolving the Palk Bay dispute and improving the livelihood opportunities for the fisherfolk, the State government has urged the Centre to hike the unit cost of vessels from ₹80 lakh to ₹1.2 crore, the figure mentioned in the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana.
Till now, construction of 42 boats have been completed under the scheme. Work on 43 more is in progress. In total, work orders have been issued to 105 beneficiaries. A sum of about ₹31 crore was released to the beneficiaries. Being financed by the Union and the State governments with beneficiary participation, the scheme had originally envisaged the provision of 2,000 vessels in three years to the fishermen of the State and motivate them to abandon bottom trawling.
Pointing out that the cost factor is a serious problem for the fishermen, an expert in the field of fisheries suggests that an agency of the State government be entrusted with the task of purchasing deep sea vessels which can, in turn, be given on rent to fishermen, who are using bottom trawlers. The fishermen can be advised to form organisations on the lines of cooperative societies or farmer producer groups.