• Sanskriti IAS - अखिल मूर्ति के निर्देशन में

Resolving the India-Sri Lanka fisheries issue

  • 23rd April, 2022

(Mains GS 2 : India and its Neighborhood- Relations.)

Context:

  • Recently, the India-Sri Lanka Joint Working Group (JWG) on fisheries held its much-awaited deliberations (in virtual format) on March 25.
  • For well over a decade now, fishermen of India and Sri Lanka have been unable to agree on how to share the fishes in the narrow Palk Strait separating the two countries.

Trawling issue:

  • Apart from poaching in the territorial waters of Sri Lanka, the use of mechanised bottom trawlers is another issue that has become a bone of contention between the fishermen of the two countries.
  • This method of fishing, which was once promoted by the authorities, is now seen as being extremely adverse to marine ecology.
  • With the Indian side of the IMBL already ravaged by decades of high profit-yielding bottom trawling, they flock to the Sri Lankan side, with relatively less damage and therefore, more marine resources.
  • The actions of the Tamil Nadu fishermen adversely affect their counterparts in the Northern Province who are also struggling to come to terms with life after the civil war.

Genuine problem: 

  • The fishermen of Tamil Nadu experience a genuine problem of the lack of fishing areas consequent to the demarcation of the IMBL in June 1974 as if they confine themselves to Indian waters, they find the area available for fishing full of rocks and coral reefs besides being shallow.
  • The distance between Dhanushkodi (Tamil Nadu) and the IMBL is nine nautical miles (NM) while the maximum distance — Devipattinam and the IMBL — is 34 NM.
  • Under the Tamil Nadu Marine Fishing Regulation Act 1983, mechanised fishing boats can fish only beyond 3 NM from the coast which explains the trend of the fishermen having to cross the IMBL frequently.

Fisher-level talks:

  • The present situation, which is otherwise very stressful for Sri Lanka in view of the economic crisis, can be utilised to bring the fishermen of the two countries to the negotiating table.
  • It is up to Sri Lanka now to ensure that the talks take place as the Indian side is keen on resuming fisherfolk-level deliberations.
  • As several substantive issues were discussed threadbare in the previous rounds of such meetings (the last one was in New Delhi in November 2016) only some fine-tuning of the respective positions had to be done.

Present a road map:

  • While Indian fishermen can present a road map for their transition to deep sea fishing or alternative methods of fishing, the Sri Lankan side has to take a pragmatic view that the transition cannot happen abruptly. 
  • To elicit a favourable response from the fishermen of the Northern Province, the Tamil Nadu fishermen have to commit themselves to a short and swift transition for which the governments in India ( Central and State) have to come forward to perform the role of guarantors.
  • Also, whenever there is a genuine complaint about Tamil Nadu fishermen having damaged the properties of the Northern Province’s fishermen, the Indian government can compensate this through the proper channels of Sri Lanka.

Modify the scheme:

  • India will have to modify its scheme on deep sea fishing to accommodate the concerns of its fishermen, especially those from Ramanathapuram district, so that they take to deep sea fishing without any reservation. 
  • The revised scheme has to satisfactorily absorb not only the unit cost of long liners but also the running cost and further there is a compelling need for the Central and State governments to implement in Tamil Nadu the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana in a proactive manner.
  • The scheme, which was flagged off two years ago, covers alternative livelihood measures too including seaweed cultivation, open sea cage cultivation, and sea/ocean ranching.

Institutional mechanism:

  • The two countries should explore the possibility of establishing a permanent multi-stakeholder institutional mechanism to regulate fishing activity in the region.
  • At the same time, Sri Lanka should take a lenient view of the situation and refrain from adopting a rigid and narrow legal view of matters concerning the release of 16 fishermen or impounded fishing boats (around 90 in number). 
  • Any delay in this will only increase the bitterness between the two countries at a time when the economic crisis of Sri Lanka is generating empathy in India.

Conclusion:

  • Rather than the customary condemnations and denials whenever there are fishermen deaths, there needs to be constructive effort from authorities on either side to find a solution to this problem.
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