“State government cannot levy fine on fishermen crossing International Maritime Boundary Line ”

The Puducherry government has passed an order stating that any fisherman found crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line with Sri Lanka will be fined up to Rs. 10,000 and forfeit the licence and registration of his vessel.

The National Fishworker’s Forum, however, has condemned the notification saying that the government does not have the right to issue such an order.

According to the notification, first-time offenders would be fined Rs. 5,000 and all their government-issued benefits suspended until the fine is paid. Second-time offenders would face a penalty of Rs. 10,000 and lose “financial and other benefits” till payment of fine.

For those who cross the international maritime boundary line for a third time, their fishing vessel’s licence and registration revoked. The notification is made under the Puducherry Marine Fishing Regulation Act of 2008.

General secretary of the National Fishworkers Forum M. Ilango told The Hindu over phone that the government has no right to file such a notification as it is beyond the purview of the State. The International Maritime Boundary Line is beyond 200 nautical miles from land, which is not controlled by the State government. The State government only has a jurisdiction up to 12 nautical miles. Twelve to 200 nautical miles falls under the Exclusive Economic Zone and is controlled by the country.

Secondly, the Sri Lanka coast is only 19 nautical miles from the Tamil Nadu coast, and the area has been used by fishermen for several generations. Till 1983, there were no problems of fishermen crossing the IMBL and it was not taken up as an issue. Finally, Puducherry fishermen have to cross Tamil Nadu’s territorial waters to enter the IMBL. But, the Tamil Nadu government had not passed such a notification, he said.

The notification was made under pressure from the Centre. Rather than using this as a solution, the Centre should work with Sri Lanka to set up an Indo-Sri Lankan Marine Fishing Dispute Redressal Authority to help solve these disputes, he said.

In 2013, over 50 fishermen from Karaikal were captured by the Sri Lankan Navy for crossing the IMBL.The notification was published in the gazette on Tuesday.