As many as 272 Indian fishermen are currently lodged in foreign jails, including 220 in Pakistan and 34 in Sri Lanka, the government said on Thursday.
Minister of state for external affairs, V K Singh told the Rajya Sabha that the main reason for frequent arrest of Indian fishermen by Sri Lankan authorities was due to the allegation that they indulge in bottom trawling and there being no physical demarcation of international maritime boundaries.
“As on date there are only 34 fishermen and 19 boats which are in custody of Sri Lanka. From time to time, government secures the release of Indian fishermen. The last release that took place was of 99 Indian fishermen on April 9 in exchange for 9 Sri Lankan fishermen,” he said.
“Sri Lankan fishermen accuse Indian fishermen are involved in bottom trawling. Until this practice is stopped, we cannot have an agreement on fishing in each other’s waters. That is the main reason that is stopping a proper agreement to come into place between two countries,” he added, explaining that bottom trawling was considered very deleterious in fishing circles as it wipes out and extensively damages marine life.
Singh, however, assured that the government had accorded the highest priority to the safety and security of Indian fishermen and provides regular consular access to those detained in foreign countries to secure their early release.
Commenting on Pakistan, Singh said that according to the bilateral agreement reached in May 2008, the India-Pakistan Joint Judicial Committee – which consists of retired judges of superior judiciary from the two countries – is meeting every six months and visiting jails to ensure the humane treatment and expeditious release of prisoners.