Fishermen issue between India and Sri-lanka

Contact Counsellor

Fishermen issue between India and Sri-lanka

  • Fishermen from Tamil Nadu keep getting caught with alarming regularity in the territorial waters of Sri Lanka for “poaching”.
  • Yet, the stakeholders concerned have yet to demonstrate the alacrity required for well-known solutions.
  • In the latest development, the Sri Lankan Navy arrested 22 fishermen who are from Nagapattinam and neighbouring Karaikal.

Fishermen issue

  • Due to the close proximity of both nations' territorial seas, particularly in the Palk Straits and the Gulf of Mannar, cases of fishermen straying are prevalent.
  • Indian vessels have fished in the troublesome seas for generations and enjoyed unfettered access to the Bay of Bengal, Palk Bay, and the Gulf of Mannar until 1974 and 1976, when the two nations signed treaties demarcating the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL).
  • The accords, on the other hand, failed to account for the hardships faced by thousands of traditional fishermen who were compelled to limit their fishing trips to a small region.
  • The small islet of Katchatheevu, which they had previously used to sift their catch and dry their nets, had been pushed to the opposite side of the IMBL.
  • Fishermen frequently risk their lives by crossing the IMBL rather than return empty-handed, but the Sri Lankan Navy is on high alert, and those who have crossed the line have had their fishing nets and vessels confiscated or destroyed.
  • The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare of India and the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development of Sri Lanka have agreed to form a Joint Working Group (JWG) on Fisheries to help find a lasting solution to the fishermen issue.

Strategic importance of Sri Lanka

  • In the broadest sense, Sri Lanka, which is positioned on the southern point of peninsular India, is strategically significant for India.
  • This island nation is at the crossroads of important sea lanes connecting Europe and East Asia, as well as oil tanker routes connecting Gulf oil producers to China, Japan, and other Pacific nations.
  • For its own security objectives, India has a critical strategic stake in Sri Lanka.
  • A hostile Sri Lanka would be strategically inconvenient for India.
  • Sri Lanka is also strategically important to India in terms of her Indian Ocean strategy and in terms of networking of partners for her aims of establishing an Indian Ocean Rim Community.

Major Challenges

  • China factor: Sri Lanka has approved China's major connectivity initiative, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as a forum for strategic rivalry between India and China. It is also one of China's key hubs in the maritime strategy.
  • Lack of bipartition support to India: When Mahindra Rajapaksha leased the strategically important port of Hambantota to China, a delicate matter for India, relations between the two countries deteriorated dramatically.
  • Ethnic issue: The long-running conflict in Sri Lanka between the Sinhala majority and the Tamil minority has severely harmed bilateral relations in recent decades. In Sri Lanka, the subject also entails a war crimes investigation and accountability difficulties.
  • Fishermen disputes: Due to the close proximity of both nations' territorial seas, particularly in the Palk Straits and the Gulf of Mannar, cases of fishermen straying are prevalent.

Way forward

  • Because both nations are democratic, there is room to grow and strengthen connections.
  • Through bilateral discussions, both nations should endeavour to find a long-term solution to the issue of fisherman.
  • To increase economic cooperation between the two nations, a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) must be inked.
  • To enhance relations with Sri Lanka, India has to place a greater emphasis on its historic and cultural links.
  • The launch of ferry services between India and Sri Lanka has the potential to increase people-to-people connections.
  • Mutual recognition of each other's concerns and interests can help both countries enhance their relationship.