Coastal Security Group under police department equally responsible, says judge

The Madras High Court Bench here on Monday questioned the rationale behind the State government blaming the Centre alone for alleged attacks on Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy when the Coastal Security Group, under the State police department, was also equally responsible to check infiltration in coordination with Central agencies such as Navy and Coast Guard.

The question arose during the hearing of a batch of public interest litigation petitions before a Division Bench comprising Justice Vinod Kumar Sharma and Justice A. Selvam.

While one of the petitioners sought protection for fishermen, the other wanted the government to give them fire arms and another sought for taking up the issue with the International Court of Justice.

Intervening during arguments, Mr. Justice Sharma said that the situation was made complex with the petitioners claiming that the fishermen were being attacked even in Indian waters; the State government shifting the blame on the Centre for having failed to protect the fishermen and the Centre stating that the attacks, if any, could have taken place only in the Sri Lankan waters.

The judge found fault with the petitioners, the State as well as the Centre for complicating the issue. He wondered how one of the petitioners could seek a direction from a High Court exercising writ jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution to distribute fire arms to fishermen. He advised the lawyer concerned to withdraw the PIL petition for it might weaken the other cases.

Later, when a Special Government Pleader, representing the State, said that it was up to the Coast Guard to prevent such attacks on the high seas, the judge retorted saying: “We want to ask you one question. Protection of law and order is whose duty? It is the State’s duty. Why don’t you prevent the fishermen from crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL)?”

Then, Additional Solicitor General P. Wilson said that almost all boats owned by fishermen were fitted with Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment and wireless communication systems. But none had ever contacted the Coast Guard regarding any kind of attack by the Sri Lankan Navy probably because the alleged attacks had not taken place in Indian territorial waters.

Not wanting to go into the claims and counter claims made by the parties to the batch of cases, the judges said that they were concerned only with the protection of fishermen and the measures that the State as well as the Centre could take to ensure their security. They adjourned the matter to Friday with a direction to both the governments to come out with steps to prevent such attacks.

“Ultimately, the fact remains that citizens are dying. According to you, they are dying because of their doing and because they cross the IMBL. We could say that they will be much safer if they don’t go into the sea for fishing at all. But that is not the issue. The issue is that you are experts in providing security and you people have to tell us what measures could be taken to safeguard the fishermen,” Mr. Justice Sharma added.