The National Fishworkers’ Forum (NFF) in India is planning to approach the International Court of Justice or the United Nations on the Sri Lankan Government’s proposed move to draft a bill to impose hefty penalties on foreign vessels poaching in Lanka’s waters, NFF chairperson, M Ilango said.
Talking to the New Indian Express, Ilango said that the NFF, along with other representatives of fishermen on coastal regions, will approach the Central government to pursue, through diplomatic channels, and prevail upon Sri Lanka not to go ahead with the move.
“Both Sri Lanka and India are signatories to the International Laws of the Sea. The two countries should treat the crossing of the maritime boundary as “innocent passage” (as stated in the International Laws of the Sea) and as a livelihood issue,” he said.
Stressing that the fishermen crossed the maritime boundary unintentionally and never indulged in anti-social activities, he appealed to the Lankan Government to desist from going ahead with the Bill.
“NFF and other fishermen representatives will meet External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to appraise her about the issue and appeal her to ensure the release of boats of the Indian fishermen seized by the Sri Lankan Navy,” he said.
Noting that nearly 19 boats seized by the Sri Lankan Navy were damaged during the last rainy season, Ilango said 46 boats still remain in the custody of Lanka and this will also be damaged, if not returned soon.
Welcoming the Sri Lankan decision to release the fishermen, Ilango said that unless their boats were also released, the fishermen will suffer losses to the tune of crores and this will hit their livelihood.
He further said that the forum will request the External Affairs Minister to form a committee, consisting of navy, coast guard representatives of government officials and fishermen, to propose recommendations to address the fishing row.
Pointing out that Sri Lanka has already formed a committee, he said that the Centre should form a panel ahead of the fourth round of talks between the two countries to sort out the issues.
According to information gathered here, Sri Lankan Fisheries Director General MCL Fernando has said that amendments were considered to be introduced to the Fisheries Act to impose severe penalties, up to Rs. 150 million (Sri Lankan currency), on foreign vessels poaching in Sri Lankan territorial waters.
The island nation’s Government has also appointed an advisory board to formulate recommendations to solve the crisis of illegal poaching by Indian fishermen before the Government initiates fresh talks with India.