External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on Thursday said New Delhi remains engaged with Colombo to ensure that fishermen on both sides can continue to pursue their livelihood in a safe, secure and sustainable manner.
Khurshid, who made a statement in the Rajya Sabha regarding 'Repeated Attacks on Indian fishermen by Sri Lankan Navy', said that the government attaches the highest importance to the safety, security and welfare of Indian fishermen.
"In response to reports of incidents of attacks on Indian fishermen, the Government, through diplomatic channels, immediately takes up the matter issues relating to incidents of firing on or apprehension of our fishermen with the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that the Sri Lankan Navy acts with restraint and our fishermen are treated in a humane and pragmatic manner," he added.
Khurshid said, "to avoid recurrence of incidents involving our fishermen and keeping in mind the humanitarian and livelihood dimensions of the fishermen's issue, the Government had reached an understanding through a Joint Statement with the Sri Lankan Government on 26th October 2008 to put in place practical arrangements to deal with bonafide Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line."
"As part of these practical arrangements, it was agreed that there would be no firing on Indian fishing vessels and Indian fishing vessels would not tread into sensitive areas designated by the Government of Sri Lanka along its coastline," he added.
Khurshid said the incidents of attack and apprehension of Indian fishermen by Sri Lankan authorities have come down following the October 2008 understanding.
" The Sri Lankan side has, however, denied the involvement of their Navy in any incidents of harassment or intimidation or attack of Indian fishermen and has stated that none of the alleged attacks have taken place in Indian waters," he added.
The External Affairs Minister further said that at the 4th meeting of the India-Sri Lanka Joint Working Group on Fisheries, held from 13-14 January 2012 in Colombo, both sides reiterated the highest priority accorded by their respective Governments to the well being, safety and security of fishermen from the two countries.
"Both countries agreed that the use of force could not be justified under any circumstances, and reiterated in this regard the importance of extending humane treatment to all fishermen. Acknowledging that fisheries involved the socio-economic and livelihood dimensions of the fishermen living in coastal areas in India and Sri Lanka, the two sides agreed to enhance cooperation that would allow both countries to pursue their fishing activity in a safe, secure and sustainable manner," said Khurshid.
"They also discussed measures for the expeditious release of bonafide fishermen from both countries. It was also agreed to hold meeting of the fishermen communities from the two countries at an early date," he added.
Khurshid further said that he strongly took up the issue of expeditious release of fishermen during his meeting with Sri Lankan Affairs Minister on August 19.
" During my meeting with the External Affairs Minister of Sri Lanka on the sidelines of the 12th meeting of the Indian Ocean Rim- Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) Council of Ministers on 2 November 2012, both sides agreed that the use of force could not be justified under any circumstances and reiterated in this regard the importance of continuing to extend humane treatment to all fishermen," said Khurshid.
"During the 8th India-Sri Lanka Joint Commission Meeting, it was noted that both sides are committed to decrease incidents pertaining to fishing on the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL). The matter has also been raised with the Sri Lankan Government during NSA's visit to Sri Lanka on July 8-9, 2013," he added.
Khurshid said the Sri Lankan High Commissioner was issued a demarche by his ministry for the expeditious release of Indian fishermen in the custody of Sri Lanka on August 7.
"The need for creating greater awareness among our fishermen to avoid crossing over into Sri Lankan waters for their own safety and security has been felt. In this context, the Government is working with the concerned State Governments on the need to sensitize Indian fishermen to respect the International Maritime Boundary Line," said Khurshid.
"The Government has also requested the Government of Tamil Nadu to finalise the dates for a proposed meeting of the representatives of Fishermen's Associations from India and Sri Lanka at the earliest," he added.