Sri Lankan Navy apprehended two groups of fishermen from Rameswaram near Mannar and Kayts

The 49 fishermen from Tamil Nadu who were caught in the Sri Lankan waters on Wednesday evening for alleged illegal fishing activity were remanded in custody.

According to officials at the Indian consulate in Jaffna, the Sri Lankan Navy apprehended two groups of fishermen from Rameswaram near Mannar and Kayts. They came in 10 fishing trawlers. The magistrate courts in Mannar and Kayts on Thursday remanded the fishermen until June 19 and 20.

This is the first instance of fishermen from Tamil Nadu being arrested after the 45-day ban period ended on June 1. Even though fishermen from Tamil Nadu have often been apprehended on charges of illegal fishing activity – the recent case being that of 26 fishermen from Karaikal and 30 from Rameswaram who were released in May after over a month in custody – there are indications that the Sri Lankan Navy is toughening its stance.

To start with, the Sri Lankan Navy is said to have posted additional personnel near Katchatheevu. However, Sri Lankan Navy spokesman Commander Kosala Warnakulasuriya told The Hindu that there was no additional deployment of Navy personnel in the area. “It is our routine security procedure, that is all.”

Even as the issue of Tamil Nadu fishermen crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) resurfaces, different stakeholders point to the absence of a long-term solution to the problem.

Recently, local dailies here reported that a section of fishermen in Tamil Nadu had mooted a proposal for charging a fine of Rs. 1 lakh from fishermen who crossed the IMBL, and cancelling their licences.

Fishermen in Sri Lanka, whose livelihood is in question, said though the proposal sounded good, they were skeptical of its implementation.

A. Jesudasan, National Coordinator, National Fisheries Solidarity Movement, Sri Lanka, said: “We do not know of the Indian government is involved in this. How do we hold fishermen accountable?”

Observing that the fisher folk who are caught here are often those engaged for daily wages, he said: “They will be badly hit by such a huge fine. What we need is a long-term solution.”

Enquiries with fishermen’s associations in Tamil Nadu and government sources revealed that the State government was not involved in the proposal. However, fishermen from both sides said the pressure was mounting and emphasised the need for the Sri Lankan and Indian governments to evolve a long-term solution.

According to informed sources working with fishing communities in Tamil Nadu, though the State government has not officially changed its stance on the issue, there are indications of the local officials and bureaucrats taking initiative.

“They seem to be exploring a three-pronged strategy – promotion of deep-sea fishing, dispersal of boats to other parts of the coast and a ‘buy back’ scheme where the government will pay the fishermen to take some of their boats. But the attempts are in their nascent stages,” said an expert working with fishing communities in Tamil Nadu, on condition of anonymity.

It is also learnt that the Central government is in preliminary discussions with the Tamil Nadu government on increasing the fine locally, and to introduce a clause for serial offenders.

“Unless the Tamil Nadu government acts upon it, we [Centre] cannot do much. Both Law and Order and Fisheries are State subjects,” said an official in New Delhi.

Meanwhile, a group of Jaffna-based fishermen, a majority of them Sri Lankan Tamils, are still waiting for the promised compensation of Rs. 25,000 each for damages to their nets by Indian trawlers a few months ago. When contacted, U. Arulanandan, Tamil Nadu-based fisher folk activist, who had promised them the amount, said he had initiated the process with the State government and was working on it.

More In: Tamil Nadu | National