Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking him to take up key issues with Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe, including the matter of Katchatheevu island, the detention of Indian fishermen by Sri Lankan authorities, and the aspirations of the Tamil-speaking section of the island nation’s populace.
The letter comes ahead of Wickremesinghe’s upcoming visit to New Delhi, scheduled to start on Friday.
Citing the demand to retrieve Katchatheevu, Stalin’s letter said the island has historically been a part of India, and that fishermen from Tamil Nadu have traditionally fished in the waters around this island.
“The transfer of Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka, by the Union government, without the state government’s consent, has deprived Tamil Nadu fishermen’s rights and adversely impacted their livelihoods,” the letter said, referring to the Tamil Nadu government’s protests in 1974. Stalin also mentioned the attempts by former chief minister M Karunanidhi, including an appeal to the then PM in 2006, for the retrieval of Katchatheevu in order to create “congenial conditions for Tamil Nadu fishermen to lead a peaceful life”.
“Our fishermen face highly restricted access to traditional fishing grounds, increased harassment by the Sri Lankan Navy, and arrests by the Sri Lankan Navy on trespassing charges. Restoring the right to fish in the traditional fishing grounds of Palk Bay has always been among the top priorities of the government of Tamil Nadu,” the letter said.
“I urge the Union government to initiate diplomatic efforts to revisit the agreement transferring Katchatheevu island and make all efforts to retrieve Katchatheevu as it will only re-establish the historical fishing rights and provide permanent relief to our fishermen. Until this is accomplished, the Union government may take steps to restore at least the traditional fishing rights of our fishermen,” the letter added.
The retrieval of Katchatheevu island is a cause that has also been taken up by the state unit of the BJP as a prestige issue.
Stalin also expressed concern about the frequent harassment and detention of fishermen from Tamil Nadu by the Sri Lankan Navy. Incidents of attacks, harassment, and detentions have reportedly been on the rise. “The prolonged incarceration of our fishermen in Sri Lankan jails has caused considerable unease and fear in the coastal villages of the state. The government of Tamil Nadu has been constantly demanding the government of India to decisively use diplomatic channels to secure the immediate release of apprehended fishermen of Tamil Nadu and prevent the recurrence of such incidents,” the letter said.
From 2020 to date, Stalin’s letter said, the Sri Lankan Navy has apprehended 619 Tamil Nadu fishermen and seized 83 fishing boats in 48 incidents. “Such incidents often entail loot of materials, viz., ice box, fish catch, GPS, fishing gear, battery, and engine. In 2023 alone, the Sri Lankan Navy arrested 74 fishermen,” it added.
Before 2018, the fishing Indian and Sri Lankan boats that were apprehended by authorities on either side were released following due legal process by the governments concerned as a regular practice. “Unfortunately, the government of Sri Lanka amended its Fisheries Act in 2018, enabling Sri Lanka to nationalise foreign fishing boats. Due to this enactment, the seized fishing boats of our fishermen that are in good condition cannot be salvaged and brought back to Tamil Nadu. Many fishermen have invested their life savings in acquiring and maintaining their boats, which are vital both for their trade and as the primary income source for their families. The nationalisation of these boats without proper compensation or alternative arrangements results in a loss of livelihood and pushes the fishermen into financial distress,” the letter said.
Stalin also urged the Union government to address the aspirations of Tamils in Sri Lanka, calling for the protection of their social, political, cultural, and economic rights. Stalin said the state government as well as the ruling DMK were at the forefront of upholding the rights and aspirations of Tamils in Sri Lanka since 1956. “For this purpose, there must be adequate and meaningful devolution of powers to the provinces, which fulfils the genuine and unresolved aspirations of the Tamils in the island nation,” Stalin wrote.