Chennai: Deeply concerned over the attack on Indian fishermen allegedly by Sri Lankan nationals, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin on Tuesday urged the Centre to take up the issue with the Lankan government in a stern manner and also register its disapproval over the island nation's decision to auction boats seized from the Indian fishermen.
In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Stalin exhorted the Centre to register its disapproval in the "strongest possible terms at the appropriate level" and also prevail upon the Lankan government to recall the advertisement for auctioning Tamil Nadu fishing boats on which they do not have any legal rights. Also, the Central government should continue the efforts for transparent disposal of 125 Tamil Nadu boats seized before 2018.
Drawing the Centre's immediate attention to yet another "outrageous incident of attack on innocent Tamil Nadu fishermen by Sri Lankan nationals" on January 23, the Chief Minister said, in a separate letter addressed to Union External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, in the latest incident, three fishermen from Puspavanam village of Vedaranyam taluk in Nagapattinam district, were attacked by a group of unidentified Sri Lankan nationals while they were fishing about 16 nautical miles from Southeast of Vedaranyam coast.
"They were robbed of a 300 kg fishing net, GPS & VHF equipment, 30 litres of diesel and also were physically attacked. The injured fishermen are undergoing treatment in Government Hospital, Vedaranyam," Stalin said.
The continuing attacks on innocent Tamil Nadu fishermen by the Sri Lankan nationals are clearly aimed at keeping the Tamil Nadu fishermen away from their traditional fishing waters of Palk Bay, he said in the letter, a copy of which was made available to the media here.
"I am constrained to point out that these attacks by Sri Lankan Nationals are disconcerting. This has become a matter of life and death for thousands of our fisherfolk whose livelihood is under serious threat," he said.
India, the Chief Minister said, cannot continue to be seen as a mute spectator as the rights of Indian fishermen are repeatedly trampled upon. Hence, he requested the government of India to take this up with the Sri Lankan government in a "stern manner such that acts of physical assault and robbing or damaging of assets of fishermen does not take place in future."
In the letter to Modi, Stalin said steps should be taken to ensure the early release of 75 boats and fishing gear seized after 2018 by the Sri Lankan navy.
He expressed "a deep sense of disappointment" over the move to auction 105 fishing boats belonging to Tamil Nadu fishermen that are in the custody of Sri Lankan authorities. The auction, slated from February 7 to 11, is an unfortunate development and has come at a time when the Indo-Sri Lankan Joint Working Group on Fisheries is due to meet again shortly, he said.
This action has created alarm and distrust among Tamil Nadu fishermen who have come forward with an accommodative frame of mind to find an amicable solution for this long pending issue, he said and pointed out that following a request from the Centre, the state government had issued orders for deputing officials and stakeholders from Tamil Nadu to inspect and oversee the disposal of fishing boats and to transfer the sale proceeds to the owners of these boats back in India.
"The schedule of the visit of officials to Sri Lanka for the above purpose was also communicated to the Ministry of External Affairs," Stalin said and added that while such positive initiatives are on, media reports from Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu said Fisheries and Aquatic Resources department of Lanka has invited tenders for auctioning Tamil Nadu fishing boats berthed in various Sri Lankan harbours.
Conducting an auction without consultation is bound to derail the efforts of the Indian High Commission and Tamil Nadu government aimed at providing some succour to the poor fishermen who have lost their means of livelihood, he reasoned. "It is pertinent to note that these unsalvageable fishing boats were released by various Sri Lankan courts following due judicial procedure," the Chief Minister said in the letter.