Chennai : Indian fishermen are hoping that the Narendra Modi government will take back the Katchatheevu island from Sri Lanka as a goodwill gesture to help the island country financially and materially as it is facing a dire economic situation.
“We are hopeful that India will take back Katchatheevu from Sri Lanka. If Katchatheevu comes back to India, Indian fishermen will have a fishing area of about 20 nautical miles and will not venture into Sri Lankan waters,” P. Jesuraja, President, All Mechanized Boat Fishermen’s Association told Rameswaram.
Indian Prime Ministers and Tamil Nadu Chief Ministers have come and gone but an unresolved issue between the two is getting back the Katchatheevu island that was transferred to Sri Lanka decades ago.
The news of the arrest of Indian fishermen and their boats by the Sri Lankan Navy is almost a daily occurrence. The only consolation, however, is that the earlier reports of the Sri Lankan Navy firing and killing Indian fishermen are no longer in the news.
“The Lankan Navy shot dead more than 500 Indian fishermen and an equal number were seriously injured and maimed,” Jesuraja said.
Now the fishermen are hoping that India will try to find a lasting solution to this vexed issue – say by gifting Katchatheevu or even on long leasing.
Tamil Nadu BJP fishermen cell president S. “If Katchatheevu is returned to India by Sri Lanka, it is a welcome step and the fishermen’s problem will be resolved,” Satish Kumar said.
The 285-acre island in the Palk Strait was transferred by India to Sri Lanka in 1974 during the rule of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
At that time, the DMK President, the late M. Karunanidhi was the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and did not object. Nor did he approach the courts against the transfer to protect the interests of the fishermen of the state.
According to the 1974 India-Sri Lanka agreement, fishermen from both countries can use Katchatheevu to rest and dry their nests and worship at the St. Anthony Temple there.
According to Jesuraja, till 1983, there was no problem between Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen as both had also caught fish by crossing the border.
“At that time the number of Indian fishermen was less. But now the number of fishermen and fishing boats has increased manifold, adding to the pressure on the fishing areas.”
The focus was on the Sri Lankan Navy to prevent arms smuggling by the Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (LTTE). With the defeat of the LTTE, the Navy is focusing on the violators of the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL).
Jesuraja said the IMBL from Rameswaram is about 12 nautical miles – the shortest for any nation – and the first five nautical miles are left for small boats to fish.
The area between five and eight nautical miles is rocky and fishing nets cannot be laid. About 1,500 mechanized boats can fish only between 8-12 nautical miles from the Rameswaram coast.
This resulted in fishing and pressure on fishermen to cross the IMBL, intentionally or unintentionally, resulting in their arrest by the Sri Lankan Navy.
Jesuraja said that as per the Katchatheevu transfer agreement, Sri Lanka cannot keep its security forces in that island but the island nation violates it.
In recent years, Tamil Nadu leaders have been demanding the return of Katchatheevu.
In 2008, the then AIADMK general secretary J. Jayalalithaa filed a case in the Supreme Court holding that the transfer of the islet to Sri Lanka is illegal as the Indian Parliament has not approved it, citing an earlier apex court order. Rude case.
Following this, a resolution has been passed in the Tamil Nadu Assembly to recover Katchatheevu and restore the fishing rights of Indian fishermen.
In a memorandum submitted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, current Chief Minister MK Stalin said: “There are more than 3,500 mechanized fishing boats and 9,000 traditional craft fisheries engaged in the Pak Gulf region. Often fishermen are caught on the pretext of Sri Lanka. Crossing the IMBL, which affects the bilateral relations between India and Sri Lanka.”
He said that bringing back Katchatheevu to India and restoration of traditional fishing rights of Indian fishermen in the Palk Bay region is on the top agenda of his government.
“The government is taking proactive steps to recover the Katchatheevu Island, which was unilaterally granted by the Government of India to Sri Lanka in 1974, to protect the traditional fishing rights of Tamil Nadu fishermen,” Stalin said.
According to the Tamil Nadu government, during the last 11 years, 3,690 fishermen were arrested and released by the Sri Lankan Navy.
Jesuraja said, “Since 2014, around 300 Indian fishing boats were captured by Lanka and around 150 were released. Only 35 boats were withdrawn.”
Due to prolonged berthing and vagaries of nature, boats from Tamil Nadu parked in various Sri Lankan ports could not be saved resulting in permanent loss of livelihood to Tamil Nadu fishermen.
Stalin has also urged Modi that the Indian government can arrange fishermen-level talks between the fishermen of the two countries as a meeting of the Joint Working Group may be convened soon.
Meanwhile, Jesuraja said Indian fishermen have no quarrel with Sinhalese fishermen as they are fishing in the deep sea. The fight is only with Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen who do not go deep sea fishing.
Sri Lankan fishermen who use gill nets for fishing are against fishing by Indian fishermen as it damages the marine ecology.
Sri Lanka has banned bottom trolling.
According to Jesuraja, Indian fishermen need time to move from trawlers to other vessels and deep sea fishing is not profitable under the Central Government’s Blue Revolution Programme.
It was initially stated that the total outlay on a deep sea fishing boat with nets would be around Rs 80 lakh, of which the fishermen would give around Rs 8 lakh, a bank loan of Rs 16 lakh while the central government would provide Rs 40 lakh. Will do and 16 lakh to the state government.
“But after the fitment the cost of the boat went up to Rs 90 lakh and the net to Rs 30 lakh. We had to borrow around Rs 40 lakh. Meanwhile diesel prices went up, while fishing dwindled and the operation is not economical. We want the loan to be waived and the boats returned,” Yesuraja said.