The External Affairs Ministry said that the Indian High Commission in Colombo has taken up the issue of "early release" of these fishermen and their boats with the Sri Lankan government.

Chief Minister MK Stalin looking into the camera while wearing a white shirt in front of a beige background
news Diplomacy Wednesday, December 22, 2021 - 09:18

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin on Tuesday, December 21, wrote to Union External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar seeking an urgent intervention to secure the immediate release of 68 fishermen and 75 fishing boats that are currently in the custody of the Sri Lankan Navy and its Coast Guard. The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister has asked the Union government to ensure India’s traditional fishing rights in Palk Strait and guard the lives of the nation's fishermen.

Citing the arrest of 13 more fishermen from Tamil Nadu's Pudukottai district and the seizure of two of their boats, Stalin said the incident comes just after the arrest of 55 fishermen and 8 boats on December 19. The 13 apprehended fishermen have been taken to Mayilatti harbour, he added. The Chief Minister said that the ‘alarming frequency’ of these attacks and apprehension demand urgent attention. “The lives and livelihoods of Tamil Nadu fishermen must be protected when they venture into Palk Strait,” the CM added.

CM Stalin said action should be taken to prevent such 'fearsome' incidents and attacks on fishermen. "It is our duty to protect the lives of our fishermen and their belongings (their boats and fishing gear)."

Speaking on the issue, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said that officials from the Consulate General of India in Jaffna have met 68 detained Tamil fishermen. “Legal representation for the fishermen is being arranged. Also, early release of fishermen and boats are being taken up by Colombo high commission,” the MEA added.

"We are concerned at the detention of Indian fishermen from Tamil Nadu by Sri Lankan authorities between December 18 to 20. As per our information, 68 fishermen and 10 boats have been taken into custody," External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said. He said officials from the Indian Consulate General in Jaffna have met the detained fishermen and are providing all necessary support.

"This includes clothes, toiletries, snacks, dry essentials and masks, besides facilitating phone calls to relatives. They are also arranging legal representation," he said. Bagchi was responding to media queries regarding the detention of the Indian fishermen.

Fishermen, under the aegis of several fishermen organisations, had held a road blockade at Rameswaram on Monday against the arrest of Indian fishermen from Tamil Nadu by the Sri Lankan Navy on charges of having crossed the international waters. Fishermen union leader S Sesu Raja told IANS, "We are fighting for the release of fishermen who are in the custody of the Sri Lankan Navy. We will hold a hunger strike on Wednesday at Thangachimandapam and will hold a rail roko on January 1 if fishermen are not released by then."

Forty-three fishermen from Rameswaram and 12 from Mandapam were arrested and eight mechanized fishing boats were seized by the Sri Lankan Navy on Saturday, December 18.

The MEA has directed the Tamil Nadu government to provide a list of people representing fishermen associations in the state for talks between the Indian side and the Lankan side on the dispute over fishing. The Tamil Nadu government, according to sources, will be soon sending the list of participants after consulting the fishermen associations and leaders.

It may be noted that the previous fishermen level talks between the two countries were held in New Delhi in November 2016 and a Joint Working Group (JWG) between India and Sri Lanka had met in December 2020 virtually.

(With IANS inputs)

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