The long-drawn fishermen problem between India and Sri Lanka – that has often threatened to spoil ties – needs a “bottoms-up solution rather than one imposed from above,” says Sri Lankan envoy, Sudharshan Seneviratne.
The fishermen problem, that has recently seen some harsh language used by Sri Lankan Fisheries Minister Mahinda Amaraweera – with India voicing its displeasure – can only be solved through “earnest dialogue”, says Seneviratne.
“In my opinion, both parties are trying to talk. The government of Mr. (Narendra) Modi is very concerned to try and work out a solution. But it has to be a short-term, mid-term and long-term process, with an understanding on both sides of the modalities, he said.
“Unless you can carry out an earnest dialogue in good faith, the problems will continue,” the envoy, who has been recalled just one year into his term, said.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during her recent press conference had commented that sometimes “very provocative statements come” from Colombo, which can “vitiate the atmosphere”. She said that both sides need to keep the atmosphere conducive before discussing the fishermen issue.
Seneviratne says both sides have to “understand the needs of the people, based on the old cultural, economic habits and the flexible way of people in using the resources”.
He says a “qualitative change seems to have occurred” on the old flexible ways of fishermen when the LTTE was dominating the area.
The envoy said the mechanised way with bottom trawling of fishing “is unacceptable for Sri Lanka and India”.
The bottom trawling, followed by Indian fishermen, “is a very destructive process; it is like killing the goose that lays the golden egg”, says the envoy.
He said the bottom-trawling by the larger and heavy-built Indian fishing vessels is leading to the “total destruction” of the marine ecology, the marine plants and breeding area of fish.
He said according to marine ecologists, “in the next 6-8 years, the total marine ecology will be destroyed for South India and Sri Lanka”.
Seneviratne points out the “contradiction” in the way the Tamil Nadu fishermen and others in the state get “hyped up about problems the Tamil people are undergoing” and the bottom trawling by Indian fishermen “which is depriving the Tamil fishermen of Sri Lanka of their livelihood”. The practice also destroyed the nets laid out by Sri Lankan fishermen.
He stressed that the issue has to be resolved through dialogue.
“We can’t put barriers. There is a historical connectivity between these people – there are inter-marriages that took place. There has to be a bottoms-up solution rather than a solution imposed from above,” he stressed.