Navy’s Dilemma with Tamil Nadu Fisherman: TN Politicians Staging Election Dramas
By Sugeeswara Senadhira
The Navy guarding the Palk Strait faces an unenviable task of dealing with Indian fishing boats illegally crossing maritime boundaries. The Navy’s task becomes all the more difficult as Indian fishermen turn arrogant during the months preceding a Tamil Nadu (TN) Election.
Last week, India lodged a strong protest to Sri Lanka over the death of four TN fishermen in the Palk Strait after their fishing boat reportedly collided with a Sri Lankan Navy patrol boat. “Our strong protest was conveyed by our High Commissioner in Colombo to the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister today,” a spokesman of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said in New Delhi. A strong démarche was also made to the Sri Lankan Acting High Commissioner in New Delhi, he added.
The compelling reaction from New Delhi was mainly due to pressures exerted by TN, where State Assembly Elections are due in May 2021. Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said “I have written to the Prime Minister insisting that an appropriate inquiry be initiated into the incident through the High Commission of India.” He sanctioned Rs1 million (SL Rs 2.25 million) each to the bereaved families. Furthermore he said, one member of each family would be given either a Government or Government-related job.
Without allowing the ruling AIADMK to score brownie points,Opposition Leader, DMK President M.K. Stalin demanded that India condemn the Sri Lankan Government for the incident and seek a compensation of Indian Rs 50 million (SL Rs11.25 million) for each of the families. Stalin alleged that while India’s External Affairs Minister recently said he had raised the issue of freeing Indian fishermen held in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan Government was not respecting India or its Government. Fishermen staged protests in parts of the State condemning the incident.
TN Trawlers poaching Sri Lanka waters
The Sri Lankan Navy said about 50 Indian fishing vessels illegally crossed over to Sri Lankan waters last Monday morning. When the Navy tried to arrest them, the Indian boats evaded arrest and were chased after by the Navy when they collided with one of the Indian vessels which overturned. The Sri Lankan Navy divers recovered the bodies of the four Indian fishermen.
Without noting the Indian vessels were indulging in fishing illegally in Sri Lankan waters, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said, “We are shocked at the unfortunate loss of lives of three Indian fishermen and one Sri Lankan national following a collision between their vessel and a Sri Lankan naval craft. Expressing our deep anguish at the loss of lives, we emphasise the need to deal with issues pertaining to fishermen in a humanitarian manner. Existing understandings between the two Governments in that regard must be strictly observed. Utmost efforts should be made to ensure that there is no recurrence,” it said.
The Sri Lankan Navy said the deceased fishermen were from Ramanathapuram district. The victims were part of a group of fishermen who set sail in 214 boats from Kottaipatinam jetty in the district of Pudukottai early last Monday.
The Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen of the North deeply resent losing their fish catch to the Indian fishermen who illegally cross the maritime boundary to fish in Sri Lankan territorial waters. The Northern Fishermen are irked over the continuous encroachment of thousands of fishing trawlers from Tamil Nadu to poach in Sri Lankan waters using illegal fishing methods, repeatedly warned the Government that very soon they would confront them physically, which could result in a bloodbath, if the Government does not halt it with immediate effect. While Minister Douglas Devananda often took this issue up with the Government, the other Tamil politicians keep silent due to Indo-Lanka geopolitics. The Northern fishermen accuse these politicians of not stepping in to sort it out.
TN fishermen steal Sri Lankan catch
“We are badly hit with no catch, even though it is the peak season for fish, crabs and prawns. We will confront the Indian fishermen come what may, because we are deprived of reasonable earnings at a time when the country is hit by COVID-19,” said the President of the Vadamarachchi North Fishermen Society, Nagarasa Warnakulasingham, representing 14 fishermen societies across the coastal area in that region.
After these protests, the Government instructed the Navy to increase vigilance, to refrain from using firepower and to deal considerately with the detained Indian fishermen.
The Northern fishermen claim they continue to encroach on the fish-rich Northern territorial waters throughout the year. Just two kilometres away, we can see the Indian poachers and not a single catch so far due to massive Indian trawlers sweeping the seabed with the catch,” President of the Vadamarachchi North Fishermen Society, said. “We have written letters to the two Governments on many occasions, and also met the Indian fishermen societies and held serious one-on-one discussions, but the Indians not only continue with illegal poaching, but also completely wipe out the seabed, thereby destroying fish breeding. Fish need rocks and plants,” he said.
During the next three months, there will be a massive surge in protests and demonstrations in Tamil Nadu over various issues in Sri Lanka as many politicians need sensational issues to win votes at the TN State Assembly elections in May. The issues range from arrest of Tamil Nadu fishermen and their boats by the Sri Lanka Navy, alleged human rights violations and denial of Tamil rights.