Tamil Nadu demands release of arrested fishermen, raises islet issue

Chennai: Voicing concern over the arrest of Indian fishermen by Lankan navy in the 'vicinity' of Katchatheevu, Tamil Nadu government has once again raised the demand that India 'retrieve' the islet from Sri Lanka.

In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa said 15 fishermen, who set sail from Nagapattinam, were apprehended by the Lankan navy on September 21 and sought steps for their immediate release along with 28 boats that are in Lankan custody.

This latest arrest of innocent and unarmed fishermen with a motive to "intimidate and prevent" them from venturing into their traditional fishing waters in the Palk Bay had happened in the vicinity of Katchatheevu, she said.

Katchatheevu, ceded to Sri Lanka by India by way of pacts in 1974 and 1976 had "always been a part of the traditional fishing area of our fishermen," she said in the letter yesterday, a copy of which was released to the media today.

She recalled she had reiterated on several occasions that her government strongly believes that the "unconstitutional" Indo-Lankan Agreements of 1974 and 1976 should be nullified and traditional rights of fishermen restored at the earliest.

Jayalalithaa said the Centre should not treat the International Maritime Boundary Line with Sri Lanka as a settled question as the "constitutionality of the 1974 and 1976 agreements" has been challenged in the Supreme Court.

The Chief Minister said she had moved the apex court in 2008, when she was opposition leader, seeking retrieval of the islet and the state government had later impleaded itself in the case.

"Our stand is that Katchatheevu has always been a part of India, geographically, culturally and historically and needs to be retrieved, keeping in view the livelihood interests and security of lakhs of Indian fishermen," she said.

She expressed confidence that the Centre would find suitable mechanisms to resolve this long pending fishing dispute "by retrieving Katchatheevu and restoring the traditional fishing rights of our fishermen."

Jayalalithaa said though Sri Lanka released arrested fishermen from Tamil Nadu, their boats were "deliberatedly not released."

"Long periods of disuse condemns the boats and equipment to ruin and poor fishermen are subjected to a huge permanent loss," she said and urged the Centre to take "positive and concrete steps to secure the immediate release of the 15 fishermen and the (total) 28 boats in Sri Lankan custody."

She also renewed her request for an assistance of Rs 1520 crore for fishing sector in the state.

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