The India-Sri Lanka joint working group on fisheries will meet next month to resolve issues relating to the Sri Lankan Navy's attacks on Indian fishermen, External Affairs minister SM Krishna told the Lok Sabha on Wednesday.
Incidents in the last two months had caused “much consternation and concern” in India and the “welfare, safety and security” of Indian fishermen would always the receive the highest priority, Krishna said after question hour had ended.
“Both our countries have agreed that the joint working group on fisheries will meet in March this year. We would also encourage the fishing associations of both countries to continue with their informal contacts since such contacts have proved to be mutually beneficial,” Krishna said.
He said two Indian fishermen were killed in the sea between India and Sri Lanka in January and another 136 fishermen from Tamil Nadu were surrounded by Sri Lankan fishermen, who caught them and handed them over to the island nation’s police earlier this month.
“The first fisherman was killed after being allegedly fired at by the Sri Lankan Navy and the second died after being allegedly strangled on the seas.
"In two recent but separate incidents this month, a total of 136 fishermen were surrounded by Sri Lankan fishermen at sea, apprehended and handed over to Sri Lankan police. Our fishermen had strayed into Sri Lankan waters close to Jaffna and Point Pedro. Some of our fishermen were injured in the skirmish at sea,” he said.
Krishna pointed out to the lower house that almost all instances of arrests and harassment of Indian fishermen seemed to have occurred in Sri Lankan waters, when they had strayed across the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL).
“While this by itself does not provide any justification for use of force against our fishermen, we need to be conscious of the sensitivities on the Sri Lankan side and of the many Sri Lankan fishermen who have, after a long hiatus, started fishing in that area,” he said.
Krishna said India had already taken up these issues with Sri Lanka and had expressed its deep concern as also emphasised that resorting to firing or use of force in such situations had no justification.
“We requested the Sri Lankan government to seriously investigate these incidents and ensure that they do not recur. We also emphasised that they should scrupulously adhered to the October 2008 joint statement on fishing arrangements in letter and spirit,” he added.
Apart from his taking up with matter with his Sri Lankan counterpart G.L. Peiris this month on the sidelines of the SAARC meet in Thimpu, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao had visited Colombo to convey the government’s strong concern over the killing of Indian fishermen when a joint statement was issued in which both sides agreed that use of forced cannot be justified, he noted.