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Troubled Waters: The Issue of Katchatheevu and The Fishing Community

Rashmi.B.R Writes: Fishing hitherto has been the life support for thousands of people in both Indian and Sri Lankan coasts. The Palk Straight between the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and Mannar district of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka has been a space for political confrontation and has remained as one of the many reasons of conflict between India and Sri Lanka.

Rashmi.B.R Writes: Fishing hitherto has been the life support for thousands of people in both Indian and Sri Lankan coasts. The Palk Straight between the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and Mannar district of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka is envied for its rich marine resources majorly including tuna, shrimp, prawns, lobsters, blue swimming crabs and cuttle fish. The Strait has been a space for political confrontation and has remained as one of the many reasons of conflict between India and Sri Lanka. The use of mechanized trawlers for fishing and the controversial 285-acre uninhabited island- Katchatheevu are observed as the causes for persistent conflict. The legality of transfer of the island to Sri Lanka by India in 1974, is challenged in the Supreme Court by the Tamil Nadu government on the grounds that the island historically belonged to India, the transfer was not ratified by the Parliament and that it is an important ground for fishing which if not used, will impede the economic interests of the fishing community in India. Though there is no ambiguity in the matter that the island presently belongs to Sri Lanka, the Indian fishermen are often blamed for transgressing into Lankan waters and violating the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) in search of better catch. As a result, over 700 fishermen have been killed in last 3 decades.

Even to this day, the issue of fishermen determines Indo-Lankan relations. On April 6th 2016, the Lankan Navy took nine Indian fishermen into custody. As an attempt to assure the rights of the Tamil fishermen, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, strongly criticized the Centre for having an apathetic attitude towards Indian fishing community. Stating that three fishermen and their mechanized fishing boat were apprehended by Sri Lankan navy on March 23, she said “a decisive shift in the manner of dealing with this sensitive issue is long awaited and is the need of the hour”. There has been a strong urge to find appropriate mechanisms to permanently douse down the conflict, and further she stated that one needs to restore the “traditional rights of the fishing community in India and to retrieve the Katchatheevu island”

The solution to this problem lay, in  discussing the issue with the people of both the countries. A committee consisting of fishermen, coast guards, naval officers and local government authorities of both India and Sri Lanka must be formed to safeguard the interests of both the countries. This committee has to look into the issue of allowing both Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen to Katchatheevu until the legality of the 1974 and 1976 agreements are established. Also, the government of both the nations should ban the utilization of mechanized trawlers to avoid the damage caused to the sea bed. Identity cards with silicon chips can be issued by the coastal guards of respective countries to their fishing community so that they can be tracked when on high seas and also can be warned against transgressing into the international waters. Thus, these solutions if adapted will certainly resolve the long fight for marine resources.

 

 

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