Negotiating team to be informed of date once all fishermen are released

Even as fishermen of Northern Sri Lanka are concerned over delay in holding the second round of talks with their Tamil Nadu counterparts, fisher-folk here see merit in the State government’s stand that the next round of talks be held only after the release of all the fishermen and their boats by the Island government.

The State government’s position “is in line” with the widespread feelings among the fisher-folk here, said Chitravelu of Nambiyar Nagar fishing hamlet. He is one of the four members representing Nagapattinam in the bilateral talks between the fishermen of both countries.

As the released fishermen by Sri Lanka continue to arrive in batches on the Indian shores – the third batch of 21 fishermen arrested by the Lankan Navy arrived at Rameswaram on Monday night and another batch scheduled to arrive at Karakial port on Tuesday - fisher-folk are now hopeful of an early announcement of the second round of talks.

The batch of 58 fishermen belonging to Thanjavur, Pudukottai, Ramanathapuram and Karaikal are expected to arrive along with their 11 boats at Nagapattinam on Tuesday.

Speaking to The Hindu, Assistant Director of Fisheries of Karaikal, N. Elayaperumal, who is also an official member of the negotiating team, said the team will be informed of the date for the second round, once all men and their boats are released.

As of last week, there were 98 fishermen lodged in Sri Lankan jails. On Sunday, 19 fishermen had arrived in the first batch. However, with the Lok Sabha poll campaign heating up and the bureaucratic machinery tied down by the model code of conduct, it is believed that the date for the second round of talks will be announced only after the elections.

Meanwhile, in Rameswaram, local leaders have advised fishermen to exercise restraint till the second round of talks between the two countries was held.

After the Lankan government had ordered the release of all the 98 fishermen arrested since March 19, the first batch of 19 fishermen had arrived here on Sunday. Even as the repatriation of the second batch of 58 fishermen on Monday has been rescheduled for Tuesday, the third and final batch of 21 fishermen arrived here with five boats.

The Indian Coast Guard vessel, Abheek, which was stationed at the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) received the 21 fishermen on being handed over by the Lankan Navy and escorted them to the fishing jetty here.

With five more ‘fishing days’ left before the 45-day ban on fishing, coming into force on April 15, leaders of fishermen associations advised the fishermen to exercise caution of restraint and avoid getting arrested till the talks were held.

P. Sesu Raja, district coastal mechanised boat fishermen association leader, said the fishermen in the coastal districts have been advised not to cause any hindrance to the Lankan fishermen and complicate things. They were also strictly warned against using banned nets, he said.

The leaders were anxious to have the talks at the earliest. However, U. Arulanandham, president of the Alliance for the Release of Innocent Fishermen (ARIF), felt that the talks could be held only during the ban period. Fishermen of the two countries were trying to find a solution to the dispute over fishing in the Palk Bay.