The statement by Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that “it was legitimate to shoot Indian fishermen if they trespassed into Sri Lankan waters”, coming as it does when the Indian Foreign Minister is on an official tour of that country and on the eve of the proposed tour of the Indian Prime Minister, is unfortunate, insensitive, inappropriate and provocative (“Sushma seeks humanitarian solution to fishermen issue,” March 8).
Ms. Swaraj has rightly responded, though in a disarming manner, by saying the issue is a humanitarian one. Mr. Wickremesinghe’s juxtaposition of the issue with that of the Italian marines case is a poor analogy. The Italians face manslaughter charges and the matter is pending before the Supreme Court. Tamil Nadu’s fishermen and their Sri Lankan counterparts stray because it is almost impossible to fix territorial jurisdiction on the high seas in the same manner as is done in the case of determining a land boundary. The interpretation of territorial waters between nations has always been a grey area.
There is nothing shocking about Mr. Wickremesinghe’s statement. We appear to forget that Sri Lanka is a democratic, sovereign republic and he has been elected to protect its sovereignty.
The argument in some quarters that it is difficult to identify the International Maritime Boundary Line and that transgressions are unintentional does not hold water. Even the fishermen who are frequently caught violating the IMBL do not take this stand. They are open in saying that fish stocks are plenty in Sri Lanka’s waters and that they must be allowed to fish at least three days in a week.
The fact is that Sri Lanka does not have a problem with fishermen in catamarans using ordinary nets but is upset about mechanised trawlers and deep sea nets, which decimate marine life. Our fishermen must be educated to respect the sovereignty of other nations and trained to explore alternative means of survival within Indian waters or land. Is it so difficult? There are bound to be abundant scientific solutions. (The Hindu)