Aug 30, New Delhi: Tamil Nadu, while calling for restoring "traditional" fishing rights for its fishermen to Katchatheevu, an islet ceded to Sri Lanka by India in 1974, has reiterated its demand for Sri Lanka to immediately release the 62 boats of the state's fishermen that are being held by Sri Lankan authorities.
The Tamil Nadu fisheries officials made these demands participating in the first India-Sri Lanka Joint Committee (JC) meeting on fisheries at New Delhi on Friday.
Officials from the governments of Sri Lanka, India and Indian state of Tamil Nadu met in New Delhi on August 29 to hold a round of official level talks to find a solution to the nagging fishermen's issue.
During the three-hour long meeting Sri Lanka emphasized the need to set up a joint interrogation mechanism for speedy release of fishermen detained by the both sides.
The two countries were expected to find an amicable solution to the thorny issues of fishermen from both countries crossing into each other's territorial waters and subsequent arrests of them by the authorities on both sides.
Currently there are no Indian fishermen detained in Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa earlier this month ordered the release of 94 Indian fishermen as a goodwill gesture to mark India's Independence Day. However, Sri Lanka has detained 62 boats of the Indian fishermen as a measure to deter more Indian fishermen from invading Sri Lankan waters.
S Vijayakumar, TN Fisheries Secretary, has stressed that Tamil Nadu fishermen traditionally had fishing rights to the disputed seas in the Palk Bay area between the two countries and lost that right with the handing over of the Katchatheevu islet to Sri Lanka. He reiterated the need to retrieve the islet as a way of resolving the fishermen issue.
Tamil Nadu does not accept Sri Lanka's sovereignty of the island although the central government of India says that under the 1974 and 1976 agreements the boundary between the two countries had already been clearly delineated and it would not allow Indian fishermen to cross over and exploit the marine resources in the waters of another country.
The Tamil Nadu fisheries official said India should not treat the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) with Sri Lanka as settled since the constitutional validity of the two agreements have been challenged by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in the Supreme Court of India.
The joint committee has agreed to explore other avenues for bilateral cooperation in fisheries. At the end of the meeting, both sides have agreed to continue to hold discussions at another meeting to be held in Colombo on a mutually agreed date.
Director General of fisheries Nimal Hettiarachchi, Advisor to the Minister Dr. S Subasinghe and Additional Solicitor General Suhada Gamlath participated in the joint committee meeting.