The Fourth Meeting of the India-Sri Lanka Joint Working Group on Fisheries was held yesterday through virtual mode.
The meeting covered the entire gamut of issues related to fishermen and fishing boats which have been on the agenda of bilateral discussions between India and Sri Lanka for many years. It may be recalled that during the Virtual Bilateral Summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa held on 26 September this year, both leaders agreed to continue engagement to address the issues related to fishermen through regular consultation and bilateral channels.
The Indian delegation was led by Dr. Rajeev Ranjan, Secretary in Department of Fisheries in Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying. The Sri Lankan delegation was led by R.M.I. Rathnayake, Secretary in Ministry of Fisheries in the Sri Lankan Government.
Dr. Rajeev Ranjan highlighted that the Indian side remains committed to working constructively with the Sri Lankan side to address all issues related to fishermen and their livelihoods in a humanitarian manner and in line with past understandings.
Referring to the recent apprehension of 40 fishermen and 6 boats by Sri Lanka Navy, the leader of the Indian delegation called on the Sri Lankan side to ensure their early release and till such time, to provide necessary facilitation including consular access and necessary assistance. The Indian side also reiterated the need for releasing all fishing boats in Sri Lankan custody in line with the commitment given by Sri Lankan President during his state visit to India in November last year.
The two sides also exchanged views on the status of cooperation between Navy and Coast Guard of both countries in patrolling, existing hotline between the Coast Guards and related operational matters, cooperation in preservation of marine environment as well as the schedule for the fifth meeting of the Joint Working Group. The Indian side conveyed its sincere determination to work in a constructive spirit with the Sri Lankan side for convening an early meeting of the Fisheries Ministers on both sides.
Both sides agreed that the convening of the Joint Working Group on virtual medium to tide over the restrictions brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic reflected the common desire to utilize the existing bilateral mechanisms and work constructively to address all issues pertaining to fishermen.
Dr. Ranjan also highlighted the initiatives being taken by India under the new Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana and other schemes of Central Government and governments of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry to diversify and reduce fishing pressure in the Palk Bay. He also informed of initiatives taken for diversification into deep-sea fishing especially by fishermen of Palk Bay area, infrastructure created to facilitate deep-sea fishing, promotion of alternative livelihood through seaweed cultivation, mariculture and varieties of aquaculture activities.