India-Sri Lanka Fishermen Issue: Understanding the Conflict and Finding Solutions

India-Sri Lanka Fishermen Issue: Understanding the Conflict and Finding Solutions

by Y P Prakash

The India-Sri Lanka fishermen issue has been ongoing for decades, but tensions have escalated in recent years. The issue revolves around the fishing activities of both Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen in the Palk Bay area, which lies between the two countries. This has resulted in a dispute over the maritime boundary and access to fishing grounds.

The maritime boundary agreements signed in 1974 and 1976 between India and Sri Lanka were intended to define the international maritime boundary between the two countries. However, these agreements have not been able to resolve the long-standing dispute over fishing activities in the Palk Bay area. Indian fishermen have been fishing in Sri Lankan waters for centuries, and many of them depend on these waters for their livelihoods. However, this is prohibited by the 1976 Maritime Boundary Agreement.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that a large number of Indian fishermen rely on trawling, which is banned in Sri Lanka. Trawling involves dragging a large fishing net along the seabed, which can cause significant damage to the marine ecosystem. The Sri Lankan government has banned trawling in its waters in an effort to protect its marine resources, but Indian fishermen continue to engage in this practice.

Sri Lankan fishermen, on the other hand, do not have adequate boats, nets, and technology to compete with their Indian counterparts. If Indian fishermen were allowed into Sri Lankan waters, the local fishing industry would be severely impacted, and consumers would be forced to buy imports. This has led to a sense of frustration among Sri Lankan fishermen, who feel that they are being unfairly disadvantaged.

The Indian government has taken a tough stance on the fishermen issue and has repeatedly pressured the Sri Lankan government to compromise. However, Sri Lanka has been hesitant to make concessions on this issue, as it fears that doing so could lead to a loss of control over its marine resources. Instead, the Sri Lankan government has called for a negotiated settlement that takes into account the interests of both countries.

Recently, the issue has taken a turn for the worse, with reports of violence against fishermen from both sides. In January 2021, 24 Indian fishermen were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy for allegedly fishing in Sri Lankan waters. This led to protests by Indian fishermen, who demanded the immediate release of their fellow fishermen. The issue was eventually resolved through diplomatic channels, with the Indian government securing the release of the fishermen.

In February 2021, a Sri Lankan fisherman was shot dead allegedly by the Indian Coast Guard. This incident led to a diplomatic row between the two countries, with Sri Lanka demanding an apology from India and compensation for the victim’s family. India, on the other hand, denied any involvement in the incident and called for a joint investigation.

The issue of India-Sri Lanka fishermen is a complex one that requires a nuanced approach. Both countries must work towards finding a mutually acceptable solution that takes into account the interests of all stakeholders. The Indian government must recognize the concerns of Sri Lankan fishermen and take steps to prevent the illegal fishing practices of Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan waters. The Sri Lankan government, on the other hand, must ensure that its fishermen are not unfairly disadvantaged and work towards improving the capabilities of its fishing industry.

It is imperative that both countries work towards a negotiated settlement that takes into account the concerns of all stakeholders. The issue of India-Sri Lanka fishermen cannot be resolved through unilateral actions or aggressive posturing. Rather, it requires a commitment to dialogue and cooperation to find a lasting solution that benefits both countries.

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