“Only if they are kept alive will Centre provide protection to fishermen”

The State government on Thursday objected to the Centre's plea before the Madras High Court Bench here to close the contempt of court applications against the Union Cabinet Secretary, National Security Advisor, Defence Secretary, External Affairs Secretary and Deputy Director General of Indian Coast Guard, on the charges of disobeying interim orders passed on October 14 to provide additional enforcements on the International Maritime Boundary Line to prevent attacks on Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy.

Advocate General A. Navaneethakrishnan, representing the State, urged the court to keep the contempt petitions alive. “Only then the Central government will provide adequate protection to the fishermen,” he said before a Division Bench of Justices Chitra Venkataraman and R. Karuppiah.

Earlier, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) M. Ravindran contended that nothing survived in the contempt applications as the Centre had provided additional security on the IMBL in compliance with the interim orders.

The ASG also saidd that it was impossible for the Coast Guard or Navy to accompany each of the 11,000 registered fishing boats, including 3,000 mechanised ones, in Tamil Nadu whenever they ventured into the sea.

Claiming that all incidents of alleged attacks on Tamil Nadu fishermen had taken place only in Sri Lankan waters, the ASG said: “Our Navy ships cannot cross the IMBL. Doing so will amount to declaring a war against the foreign nation.”

He further said that the Tamil Nadu fishermen had to face the wrath of Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen too for crossing the IMBL. “Our Indian waters have turned into a virtual desert due to indiscriminate fishing. So, our fishermen cross the IMBL in boats fitted with 250 to 300 horsepower engines in search of green pastures and use monofilament nets for deep sea fishing. When our fishermen go to their (Sri Lankan) territory and use boats and nets banned there, what do you expect? Naturally, there will be an attack because it affects their (Sri Lankan fishermen) livelihood,” the ASG said.

He also said that most of the Indian boats were fitted with GPS (Global Positioning System) and wireless VHF (very high frequency) radio sets. Therefore, they could always make a distress call to the Coast Guard in case of attacks taking place within Indian Territory.

“Our aircraft will go for rescue within minutes if any such call is received. So far, we have never received any such call. This itself will show that all the attacks have taken place only in foreign waters,” he added.

However, the petitioner's counsel W. Peter Ramesh Kumar said that 28 incidents of attacks on Indian fishermen had taken place since the interim order passed by the court.

He claimed that all those attacks had taken place in Indian waters as per cases registered by the local police.

Saying that Deepak Mittal, Director, BSM (Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Maldives) Division, Ministry of External Affairs, had no locus standi to file a counter affidavit on behalf of the contemnors, counsel urged the court to issue statutory contempt notices to all the five officers mandating their appearance before the court.

Later, the judges directed the Advocate General to submit details of the cases registered on the basis of complaints lodged by the fishermen by March 26 and said that the plea to issue statutory notices could be considered only after perusing those details.

B. Stalin, a lawyer here, had filed the contempt application as well as the main public interest litigation petition seeking protection for Indian fishermen.

Thereafter, M. Jawahirullah, Member of the Legislative Assembly representing Ramanathapuram constituency, too had filed a PIL petition, through his counsel M. Ajmal Khan, seeking a direction to the Centre to retrieve Katchatheevu Island from Sri Lanka by approaching the International Court of Justice. This petition was also tagged along with the first case.