The Ministry of External Affairs has said fishermen issues is one of the major areas of India’s concern in bilateral relationship with Sri Lanka and the two sides have taken a host of measures to address this issue.
Elaborating on the steps taken MEA Joint Secretary, Indian Ocean Region Sanjay Panda said “we are looking at getting into the root cause of this problem and our basic intention is to ensure that we find a permanent solution to the fishermen issues.”
With this understanding the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has taken an initiative under which the Foreign Ministers and the Fisheries Minister of the two countries met on November 02 in Delhi and then it was decided that there will be a joint working group which will look at all issues and see how to explore the possibility of finding a permanent solutions of the issue.
It was decided that the Joint Working Group will meet every three months and it was also decided that there will be a ministerial meeting which will be held every six months to review the progress of the Joint Working Group.
The first meeting of the JWG was held on December 31, 2016 and then on January 02 there was a ministerial meeting in Colombo. The second JWG meeting was held recently in Colombo on April 07.
“From the Sri Lankan perspective the problem is with the bottom trawling by our fishermen, which is a practice which has been going on. So now our efforts are to win our fishermen from bottom trawling and to assist them in going for deep sea fishing using long liners,” the Joint Secretary said.
Moreover, there is a package which Government of India is giving and also an equal amount will be put in by the Government of Tamil Nadu which will be about 1500 crores. The money will be earmarked for this purpose and during this period India will also simultaneously provide training to fishermen in deep sea fishing and help them with their capacity building, Panda added.
As of date there are only five fishermen in Sri Lanka’s custody who were apprehended only less than a month ago and all others have been released, the MEA official said.
He added Sri Lankan side has expressed difficulty in releasing the boats because they look at it as having a deterrent effect. However, India has requested to release the seized boats as confidence building measures.
“We have been assured by the Sri Lankan side this issue will receive their positive consideration and we hope that the boats will be released in phases,” Panda said.