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Sunday, 15 March 2015

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Modi visit:

End in sight to Northern fishery dispute



New Talaimannar Pier Railway station

With the two day landmark state visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi concluded yesterday marking another significant milestone in bilateral relations between the two countries, it is a pressing need now, more than ever, for the two countries to diplomatically sort out the thorny fishermen's cross-border issue to the mutual content of the 'Brothers at Sea' across the Palk Strait, political sources told the Sunday Observer. Interestingly, the Northern fishermen's federations which originally wanted to stage a protest demonstration against the decades-long and unending poaching shelved that decision in appreciation of the Indian PM's first ever visit to their area and, instead, handed over a representation to him insisting on such a diplomatic handling of the issue by India for the mutual benefit of the two sides. Fisheries Minister of the Northern Provincial Council (PC) Balasubramaniam Daniswaran handed over the representation on behalf of fishermen's federations at Talaimannar yesterday during PM Modi's visit to flag off the segment of the train service from Medawachchiya to Talaimannar, the rehabilitation work having been completed under the Indian line of credit.

PC Minister Daniswaran told the Sunday Observer that he had submitted representations to the Indian PM insisting on the need for 50,000 more houses for the conflict-affected Northern people under the Indian housing program, mutual diplomatic measures to amicably resolve the poaching issue and rehabilitation of infrastructure facilities, especially the road network to interior areas of the province.

The Northerners got only 40,000 houses out of the 50,000 houses earmarked for them under India's housing program since 10,000 houses had been given to the people living in the central hill country, he said.

Meanwhile, the meeting between the Northern fishermen's representatives and their Indian counterparts originally scheduled for March 11 in Chennai but postponed on account of the Indian PM's Sri Lankan visit has now been fixed for March 19, Secretary to the State Ministry of Fisheries, N.M. Hettiarachchi told the Sunday Observer.

He said that the Fisheries Ministry has proposed the date to India but is yet to be confirmed. Indian High Commission sources said that the date has not been confirmed up to now by the respective ministries in India. President of the Mannar District Fishermen's Association, Justin Soysa said that their delegation will comprise representatives, one each from fishermen's unions in Jaffna, Mannar, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Puttalam and Trincomalee.

Incidentally the talks were to begin 25 days ahead of the annual 45 -day respite for fish breeding from April 15 to May 31 which is very earnestly observed by both sides, fisheries sources said.

The Northern fishermen who had borne the brunt of the three-decades long conflict, foregoing their livelihood and almost reduced to destitution, were denied the sole right to their traditional fishing grounds even after the conflict ended in May 2009, due to the decades-long, 'easy-going' and unending poaching from across the Palk Strait.

Government to Government talks and discussions between representatives of the fishing communities of the two countries were held repeatedly beginning from the 2004 (CFA period ) and the requests, on behalf of the Sri Lankan fishers, basically were on restricting Indian fishers from undertaking destructive practices which have been banned in Sri Lanka such as bottom trawling which destroy fish breeding grounds and baby fish, purse-seining (a method of fishing where shoals of fish are rounded up and caught using a purse-like net), pair trawling (trawling with two boats) and fishing too close to Sri Lankan shores, in specified areas.

These practices have contributed to severe depletion of marine resources on the Sri Lankan side of the International Maritime Boundary Line ( IMBL ) and destruction of breeding grounds. An over-sized trawler fleet of 5,300 boats of Tamil Nadu lies at the heart of the conflict and have become progressively dependent on Sr Lankan waters.

Overfishing and the destructive methods of fishing have posed a threat to the livelihood of the over 100,000 fisher families of the Northern province.

As against the number of Indian trawler fleet, the Northerners have 2,300 OFDRP boats, 597 Vallam/Katamarans, 102 Theppam, 173 long line for OFPR boats, 1,093 OBM (Outboard Motor Boats) and about 15,000 net units.

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