July 23, Chennai: The Chief Minister of India's Tamil Nadu state J. Jayalalithaa has fired up another letter to the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday asking him to arrange immediate release of 23 fishermen arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy yesterday (July 22).
Calling for PM's urgent action, the Chief Minister has asked to take up the issue with the Sri Lankan Government and request it to instruct its Navy to refrain from arresting Tamil Nadu fishermen who "conduct fishing in their traditional waters only for eking out their livelihood."
She brought to the PM's attention that the arrest of Rameswaram fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy is the second such incident within a period of 15 days.
Sri Lanka Navy said its patrol craft attached to the North-central Naval Command apprehended five Indian trawlers with 23 Indian fishermen onboard for intruding into Sri Lankan waters off Mannar on Sunday.
The apprehended boats are anchored off Thalaimannar Naval Base and the crew was handed over to Thalaimannar Police for legal action. The fishermen have been remanded for two weeks by the Thalaimannar magistrate.
The Chief Minister said the fishermen were fishing in the sea off Katchatheevu, in their traditional fishing waters, when they were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy.
She noted in her letter that the incidents of apprehension and harassment by the Sri Lankan Navy have become a regular occurrence in the past two months, especially after the end of the fishing ban period.
"The intention of the Sri Lankan Navy to instill fear in the minds of the fishermen and prevent them from conducting fishing in their traditional waters is very obvious from the above incident of apprehension," she wrote.
She further pointed out that the actions by the Sri Lankan Navy have created a feeling of insecurity in the minds of the fishermen, who feel that there is no guarantee for their life and property in the sea, in the prevailing situation.
She also alleged that the Sri Lankan Navy temporarily suspends apprehension and harassment activities only at times when diplomatic level meetings are convened between India and Sri Lanka on the fishing issue and resumes such activities immediately thereafter.
"The fishermen of the districts adjoining Palk Bay, especially from the Rameswaram area, are targeted by the Sri Lankan Navy, making it impossible for the fishermen to conduct fishing which is the only occupation they know for the sustenance of their families," the Chief Minister wrote.
Under the signing of the 1976 Agreement and the Exchange of Letters between India and Sri Lanka, fishing vessels and fishermen of one country fishing in the others' waters is clearly prohibited.
The Tamil Nadu government refuses to accept Sri Lanka's sovereignty over the uninhabited island of Katchatheevu, which the Chief Minister refers to as "traditional fishing waters" of Tamil Nadu fishermen.
"Unless the Government of India intervenes in this issue there is every possibility of recurrence of such incidents in the coming months," Jayalalithaa wrote in her letter to Singh.