news Tuesday, March 31, 2015 - 05:30
The News Minute | March 31, 2015 | 12.30 pm IST In an attempt to arrive at a consensus with fishermen on both sides of the border, representatives of India and Sri Lanka have been holding a series of talks to resolve the issue of fishing rights in the region - once and for all. After the third rounds of talks held last Tuesday by heads of fishermen associations with their Sri Lankan counterparts, representatives of the Indian side have come up with the main points on their agenda during the talks held in Chennai. The seven-point proposal by itself is not binding according to N Devadas, the head of the Indian fishermen association in Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu. According to him, the ideas were just proposals. Agreement and implementation would depend on Sri Lankan authorities. Explaining to us the rationale behind each of the points, he gave a detailed account of the problems that fishermen faced in the coastal regions. Point 1 - Continued fishing by both sides in ‘traditional fishing’ areas with consent According to NG Bose, the State Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Fishermen Welfare Organisation, the fishermen hoped to continue as per “traditional fishing” methods followed over generations. Traditional fishing in this sense refers to the privilege that Indian fishermen have enjoyed by crossing the limits of the International Maritime Border Limited(IMBL), allowing them entry into areas near Katchatheevu despite no legal permission - activities that have been tackled harshly in recent years by the Sri Lankans. Devadas said that fishermen have been crossing and fishing in international waters for decades: “The idea we wanted to convey was that we want to be able to fish as per tradition in territorial waters.” However, with help from the Centre, the fishermen hoped to be properly equipped to fish within their territory. The state government’s demand for Rs 975 crore from the Centre for deep sea fishing would be of help, Devdas said. “If once we are properly equipped, we will not go to that country. We will do it on our own side,” he said. Point 2 - Reduction of trawlers during fishing in three years The drive against trawling revolves around preventing further destruction of the sea bed from fishing practices such as bottom trawling. Named in WWF's list of destructive fishing practices, bottom trawling is defined at the practice of towing or dragging a teal net in contact with the bottom of the sea bed intending to catch fish and other marine species near the ocean floor.  The idea was to slowly shift away from trawling over a span of three years. Devadas said that the reason that they had proposed a time-gap of three years to reduce trawling was because of the sheer quantity in boats. “We want about 3500 boats approximately. Every year we intend to get about 1000 boats, “ he said, explaining that spacing it across three years would get them exactly what they wanted - trawler-less fishing without any difficulty. Point 3 - Permission to fish for 83 days in the Palk Strait region Why 83 days? “For 45 days we don't venture out for fishing starting from April 15 to June 1,” Devdas said. Explaining that there was a time when fishermen could venture out into the sea for fishing any time of the year. Now, the government issues fishermen tokens allowing them to fish only on some particular days. “We are given 12 tokens a month. So you do the math,” he said. But will 83 days be enough? - “Something is better than nothing,” he said. “Compared to having nothing at least we will have 83 days of freedom to go out and fish,” he explained. According to fishermen federation leader MS Arul, the fishermen would be allowed to fish in the region only two days per week, which roughly explains the 83 day period. During this period, no Sri Lankan fishermen should be allowed to fish. Point 4 - Shift from trawl boats to deep sea fishing boats A tangent off point 2, the alternative solution provided was a proposal to shift completely to deep-sea fishing using the Rs 975 crore aid that the Tamil Nadu State government has asked from the Centre. Point 5 - No usage of destructive nets Varieties of nets such as the purse seine and minnow seine fishing nets are those that should not be used during fishing. He said that the state government had already barred fishermen from using certain types of destructive nets which they intended to comply by. Purse Seine nets have been banned in Tamil Nadu. However, recently cases have been filed against fishermen in the state over their usage. Point 6- No crossing the five nautical mile barrier from the Sri Lankan coast This proposal is one independent of the 83-day fishing rule barring fishermen from reaching a distance of five nautical miles from the Sri Lankan coast. “Even though for 83 days we will be allowed to fish in the Palk Strait, we will have to stay away from their coast by law,” he explained. Point 7 - No arrests if fishermen crossed the international maritime limit While many Indian fishermen arrested by the Sri Lankan coast guard are charged for crossing the International Maritime Border Limited, the final proposal on the agenda, mentioned that no arrest should be made if fishermen ended up crossing the line. For Indian representatives of the fishermen, the proposal is a sort of middle ground in making demands. “We have only asked what is required based on what we think will be useful,” said Devadas. Saying that politicians so far had remained only spectators he said that final decisions could be implemented only after the Sri Lankan side agreed to it. What happens if the island country refuses some proposals? - “The two most important points in the proposal are the 83-day fishing time period and the three years span for slowly moving to other boats,” he said. However, there was nothing much they could do if the Lankans objected with any of their proposals. For now it will be a wait-and-watch as the ball is in Sri Lanka’s court. (Image courtesy : SP Loganathan) Tweet Follow @thenewsminute

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