When the fishermen were expecting their release on May 6, the court extended the remand till May 20. However, in a surprise development, it ordered their release on Wednesday
The 32-day ordeal for 30 Rameswaram fishermen, who were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy on April 6, ended as they returned to a warm reception at the Rameswaram fishing jetty late on Wednesday evening.
The fatigued fishermen were received with tears of joy and agony by their family members and the fisher folk, when they arrived along with their five trawlers around 8.30 p.m.
The Rameswaram jetty, which is normally dark at this time, was instantly lit up with the flashlights of press photographers, who were vying with one another for a better picture of the trawler, carrying the first batch of nine fishermen, touching the shore.
They were arrested on April 6, a day after 26 fishermen from Karaikal were taken into custody by the Lankan Navy in the high seas.
The Mannar District Court remanded them in judicial custody till April 18, and subsequently extended their remand till April 18, 26 and again till May 6.
When the fishermen were expecting their release on May 6, the court again extended the remand till May 20.
However, in a surprise development, it ordered their release on Wednesday.
U.Arulanandham, president of the Alliance for Release of Innocent Fishermen (ARIF), who was championing the cause of the fishermen, told The Hindu that Sri Lankan Deputy High Commissioner in Chennai O.L.Ameer Ajwad expedited their release.
The Lankan Navy handed over the fishermen, along with five boats, to the Indian Coast Guard at the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) at 4.20 p.m.
The Coast Guard officials attached to the Mandapam station received them at the border and after completing the formalities, handed over them to the Fisheries Department about one nautical mile from the coast.
Assistant Director Fisheries (Rameswaram) I. Philomin Thiagarajan received the fishermen.
The released fishermen said they were not harassed by the Sri Lankan authorities, but worried about their release when the court thrice extended their remand.
They said they were hopeful of their release on May 6, but their hopes were dashed when the court extended their remand till May 20, they said.
After the court extended the remand for the second time, two of the fishermen — Arumugam (65) and Chandran (58) — were admitted to the hospital as they fell ill, according to K.Kumaravel, one of the arrested fishermen.
Kumaravel was already arrested by the Lankan Navy in 2006 for crossing the IMBL, but he was released after two days in prison, he said.
A.Johnson (40) from Thangachimadam said they were treated well by the Lankan authorities, but they were warned that they would be arrested if they crossed the IMBL again, he said.
When Muniasamy (38) of Pudu Road in Rameswaram got arrested, his wife Indira (33) had to go for shallow water fishing (karavalai) near Danushkodi to take care of their three school-going sons, she said.
Our Sri Lankan Correspondent adds:
A total of 30 fishermen from Rameswaram —who were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy on April 6 — were released on Wednesday.
The magistrate court in Mannar ordered their release, little over a month after their arrest on charges of engaging in illegal fishing activity in Sri Lankan waters.
However, the case against the 26 fishermen from Tamil Nadu held on April 5 remains sub judice. According to sources at the High Commission of India in Sri Lanka, senior officials have taken up the speedy release of the fishermen with the Sri Lankian authorities.