Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, on Saturday urged the Centre to send a strong message to Sri Lanka that it would not compromise on the safety of fishermen venturing into the high seas.
Addressing a meeting of fisherfolk from the West Coast at the National Fishermen's Conference here, Ms. Swaraj said hundreds of fishermen were languishing in the jails of other countries, with as many as 287 in Pakistan. She said about 150 fisherfolk who were arrested by Sri Lanka were released only after she led a demonstration in front of the Sri Lankan High Commission in New Delhi.
Ms. Swaraj said External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna had admitted that the Joint Working Group of India and Sri Lanka had not met at all in the last six years, and later promised to activate it. “It must meet regularly,” she said.
She said many boats — some valued at over Rs. 5 lakh each — were confiscated by other countries and were not available for fisherfolk after they got freed from foreign jails. She demanded not only a waiver for pending loans in such cases but also fresh loans to be made available at an interest rate of four per cent.
Observing that many banks did not even give entry to fisherfolk, Ms. Swaraj said a part of the capital available for lending should be earmarked by law for fisheries. This was the only way to ensure that banks assisted those engaged in fishing.
She also demanded that educational and health facilities be located closer to the hamlets of fisherfolk.
Ms. Swaraj promised to hold a convention of MPs representing the coastal areas in order to form a pressure group within Parliament, irrespective of the parties they represent, to ensure that the problems of fishermen were addressed better.
BJP national secretary Muraleedhar Rao said fish was an essential ingredient in achieving India's food security, and demanded better infrastructure for fisherwomen to carry and sell fish.