External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has stated that the Central government attaches the highest importance to the welfare of Indian fishermen, adding that whenever Sri Lankan authorities attack or detain them, New Delhi immediately takes the matter up with Colombo.
"The government attaches the highest importance to the safety, security and welfare of Indian fishermen. We consider the matter as essentially humanitarian in nature involving the livelihood of our fishermen community. Whenever such incidents of attack and consequent detention of our fishermen by the Sri Lankan authorities are reported, the government, through diplomatic channels, immediately takes up the matter with the government of Sri Lanka to ensure that the Sri Lankan authorities act with restraint, our fishermen are treated in a humane and pragmatic manner and are released expeditiously," Swaraj stated, while addressing a motion on the issue of Tamil Fishermen in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.
Swaraj further stated that Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks a permanent solution to the issue, adding that this was a topic of discussion in his recent meetings with Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
"It is because of the priority attached to this issue by the government that the matter was raised at the highest level by the Prime Minister in his very first meeting with the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in May. Both leaders, in their recent meetings in New York in September and in Kathmandu in November have reiterated the urgent need towards finding a permanent solution to the matter," she said.
"I have also discussed the matter, in great detail, with the Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister Prof. GL Peiris during his visit to New Delhi in July," she added.
Pointing to the recent release of five fishermen, who had been incarcerated and awarded the death penalty in Sri Lanka, Swaraj stated that the understanding between the two countries has brought down the incidents of loss of life.
"The recent incident involving the apprehension and award of death sentence to five Indian fishermen on 30 October 2014 by the High Court of Colombo has been successfully resolved following sustained efforts by the government, when the President of Sri Lanka granted full remission of the sentence of all five fishermen," she said.
"Following the October 2008 understanding between the two countries on practical arrangements to deal with bonafide India and Sri Lankan fishermen crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line, the incidents of attack have come down significantly," she added.
Swaraj also stated that the government is exploring options involving electronic warning systems and is looking to find a long-term solution to the issue.
"The government is steadfastly working, in close cooperation, with the relevant stakeholders in finding a long term solution to this issue, which would involve migration of our fishermen to deep sea fishing. The government has simplified and streamlined the guidelines for fishing operations in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone to create an enabling environment," she said.
"A proposal involving the development of a National AIS (Automatic Identification System) Network for effective tacking of small fishing vessels fitted with customized AIS transponders and having early warning system on International Maritime Boundary Line is also being actively explored," she added.