Gujarat government and fishermen bodies of the state welcomed the joint statement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, announcing release all fishermen of Gujarat lodged in Pakistan jails withing two weeks and while also repatriating Pakistani fishermen kept in Indian prisons.
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“This is a very welcome development. Fishermen are fishermen irrespective of their nationality. To release them with their boats is a very welcome step,” Fisheries Minister Babu Bokhiria told The Indian Express.
Modi and Sharif met on the sidelines of the Sanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Ufa town of Russia early on Friday. After their meeting, the two PMs issued a joint statement announcing, among other initiatives, decision of the two countries to release all the fishermen lodged in each other’s jail within two weeks, with their boats.
Gujarat fisheries commissioner Mohamedhabib Narmawala said that 313 fishermen of the state were lodged in Pakistani jails. These fishermen were arraigned by Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) for allegedly violating contentious International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) of the two neighbours in the Arabian Sea.
This will be fourth release of Indian fishermen, a vast majority of them belonging to Gujarat, by Pakistan since May 2014 when the two premiers met first time in New Delhi and started the trend of releasing fishermen whenever they met or talked to each other.
After attending Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in New Delhi, Sharif had announced to release 151 Indian fishermen as a goodwill gesture.
In three subsequent releases, Pakistan repatriated 324 more fishermen to India. The latest release had come on June 18 when 113 Indian fishermen were sent back home. India had also reciprocated by repatriating 88 Pakistani fishermen the same day.
According to Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD), a group of activists from India and Pakistan working for friendly relations between the two countries, there are 116 Pakistani fishermen lodged in various Indian prisons.
“Though the two leaders were meeting at a multi-lateral summit, they showed concern for fishermen. This is a great gesture by the two PMs bringing cheers to the families of fishermen.
The fact that fishermen will get their boats back is especially important as boats are their means of livelihood. Out of more than 800 boats in custody of Pakistan, around 300 can be made seaworthy and brought back,” Velji Masani, vice-president of All Gujarat Fishermen Federation, an organisation of fishermen of the state, said.
Bokhiria concurred saying around 70 fishing trawlers of Gujarat were seized by PMSA in the fishing season that began in August-2014 and ended in June this year and that those could be brought back. Incidentally, Pakistan had released 57 trawlers in March this year, marking first of its kind action since 2004.
Jatin Desai, general secretary of PIPFPD said the move was a good beginning. “But we stress that both countries should have a no-arrest policy for fishermen as this is a humanitarian issue. It is good that all the fishermen in each other’s jail will be released. But tomorrow, there can be fresh arrests and thus the issue can persist,” said Desai.
The PIPFPD general secretary added that there were 150 Pakistani boats in custody of Indian authorities and that around 50 of them can sail back to Pakistan after some repairs.