India called for the early release 40 fishermen and 6 boats captured by the Sri Lanka Navy during the Fourth Meeting of the India-Sri Lanka Joint Working Group on Fisheries which was held virtually yesterday.
The Indian delegation was led by Dr. Rajeev Ranjan, Secretary, Department of Fisheries, Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying. The other members of the Indian delegation included senior representatives from the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of Tamil Nadu, Government of Puducherry, Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard.
The Sri Lankan delegation was led by Ms. R.M.I. Rathnayake, Secretary, Ministry of Fisheries of the Government of Sri Lanka. The other members of the Sri Lankan delegation were senior officials from their Foreign Ministry, Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Navy, Coast Guard and the Department of the Attorney General.
The meeting covered the entire gamut of issues related to fishermen and fishing boats which have been on the agenda of bilateral discussions between India and Sri Lanka for many years. It may be recalled that during the Virtual Bilateral Summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa held on 26 September 2020, both leaders agreed to “continue engagement to address the issues related to fishermen through regular consultation and bilateral channels.”
Secretary, Fisheries, Government of India, highlighted that the Indian side remains committed to working constructively with the Sri Lankan side to address all issues related to fishermen and their livelihoods in a humanitarian manner and in line with past understandings.
Referring to the recent apprehension of 40 fishermen and 6 boats by Sri Lanka Navy, the leader of the Indian delegation called on the Sri Lankan side to ensure their early release and till such time, to provide necessary facilitation including consular access and necessary assistance. The Indian side also reiterated the need for releasing all fishing boats in Sri Lankan custody in line with the commitment given by Sri Lankan President during his state visit to India in November 2019.
The two sides also exchanged views on the status of cooperation between Navy & Coast Guard of both countries in patrolling, existing hotline between the Coast Guards and related operational matters, cooperation in preservation of marine environment as well as the schedule for the fifth meeting of the JWG. The Indian side conveyed its sincere determination to work in a constructive spirit with the Sri Lankan side for convening an early meeting of the Fisheries Ministers on both sides.
Both sides agreed that the convening of the JWG on virtual medium to tide over the restrictions brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic reflected the common desire to utilize the existing bilateral mechanisms and work constructively to address all issues pertaining to fishermen.
Secretary, Fisheries, Government of India, highlighted the initiatives being taken by India under the new Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana and other schemes of Government of India and governments of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry to diversify and reduce fishing pressure in the Palk Bay. He also informed of initiatives taken for diversification into deep-sea fishing especially by fishermen of Palk Bay area, infrastructure created to facilitate deep-sea fishing, promotion of alternative livelihood through seaweed cultivation, mariculture and varieties of aquaculture activities.
The first meeting of the Joint Working Group was held on 31 December 2016 in New Delhi. The Second Joint Working Group was held in Colombo on 7 April 2017 while the Third Meeting was held in New Delhi on 13 October 2017.