Following the killing of a Tamil fisherman, allegedly by soldiers of the Sri Lankan Navy, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told Parliament Thursday the matter has been taken up at the highest level in the Sri Lanka government. In a statement in both Houses, she said the safety and well-being of fishermen was top priority for the government.
“I will again like to reassure the honorable members that the government accords the highest priority to promote the well-being, safety and security of our fishermen. We have strongly conveyed to Sri Lanka that the use of force cannot be justified under any circumstances,” she said.
The fisherman was killed on March 6 in Palk Bay after a vessel from Tamil Nadu was fired upon, allegedly by the Lankan navy. After India expressed its strong concerns, Sri Lanka denied the involvement of its navy, Sushma noted.
The Indian high commissioner has spoken to the Sri Lankan prime minister and navy commander, she said. The Lankan navy, however, maintained its patrol boats are not authorised to open fire at any point on Indian fishermen even if they are transgressing into Sri Lankan waters, she said.
“The President of Sri Lanka conveyed to our Vice President in their meeting in Jakarta on March 7 on the sidelines of the Indian Ocean Rim Association Leaders’ Summit his regret at the unfortunate incident and the loss of life. He emphasised that he has ordered a full investigation,” Sushma said. India continues to pursue the matter with the Sri Lankan government, she said.
She said India has consistently taken up fishermen’s issues with Sri Lanka and secured the release of 1,045 fishermen in 2014, 375 in 2015, 333 in 2016 and 51 in 2017. The release of all 85 fishermen still in Sri Lankan custody has been secured, she said, adding while 77 returned to India Tuesday, the other eight are on their way back.
The government has taken up the matter of the release of their boats too, she said.
In Rajya Sabha, Sushma said 301 Indian fishermen are currently lodged in jails in Pakistan, which has confirmed the presence of only 77. Making a statement after concerns raised by members including Madhusudan Mistry (Congress) over frequent incidents of Gujarat fishermen being caught by Pakistani authorities, Sushma said that due to the persistent efforts, the government has been able to secure the release and repatriation of 1,261 fishermen since 2014. “In fact, the release of 438 of these Indian fishermen was secured in the last three months only,” she said.