As many as 301 Indian fishermen are currently lodged in jails in Pakistan which has confirmed the presence of only 77 and government is making all efforts to secure their release, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said on Thursday. Making a statement in the Rajya Sabha, she said India has taken up the issue with Pakistan and has put a policy in place where officials of both countries exchange information about prisoners lodged in each others’ jails.
She said the last time such an exchange took place was on January 1 this year.
“Since 2014, we have been able to secure the release of 1,261 fishermen lodged in Pakistan jails. In the last three months, we have secured the release of 438 Indian fishermen.
“There are a total of 301 Indian fishermen currently lodged in Pakistan jails, but Pakistan has so far confirmed the presence of only 77 of them,” Swaraj informed the House.
Her statement came in response to a query by Congress member Madhusudan Mistry made earlier.
Swaraj said government has been regularly taking up the matter of consular access, early release and repatriation of the apprehended Indian fishermen in the custody of Pakistan authorities at various levels.
“We have institutionalized the mechanism of sharing information about the prisoners, including fishermen, in each other’s custody through a Bilateral Protocol in 2008. Under this, lists of prisoners, including fishermen, are exchanged on January 1 and July 1, every year,” she said.
Swaraj said the government is continuously monitoring the status of Indian fishermen in Pakistan custody and accords high priority to securing their early release and repatriation.
The Minister said government continuously seeks consular access to Indian fishermen in custody and distribute to them the items of daily necessity.
On the issue of many incidents of apprehensions taking place beyond the international waters, she said under the Community Interaction Programme, regular awareness campaigns are conducted by the Indian Coast Guards in coordination with the State Fisheries Department, to educate the fishermen about the limits of the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL).
“Emphasis has also been laid on the need for fishing in safe, secure and sustainable environment. Indian Coast Guards have also been undertaking enhanced patrolling in Indian waters, including safeguarding interests of Indian fishermen and keeping them out of harm,” she said.