In Tamil Nadu, a lack of political will to end the Palk Bay conflict

News: Palk Bay (an important marine zone between south-eastern India and northern Sri Lanka) has been a source of dispute for long. 

It has come under news once again due to arrest of 68 Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan authorities.   

More on this arrest here. 

What has been the history of the issue? 

Efforts for delimitation of the Palk strait and Gulf of Mannar had started since 1921, but the agreements were finally signed in 1970 only. 

Palk Bay Scheme

The concept of International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) for Palk strait came into being through these agreements. 

The IMBL made some former parts of India, a part of Sri Lanka. 

So even these agreements were not free from disputes and thus could not settle the issue boundary and fishing jurisdictions permanently. 

These loopholes in the pacts gave way to new problems, including the recurring incidents of Tamil Nadu fishermen crossing the IMBL and getting caught by the Sri Lankan authorities. 

What are the other causes of the problem? 

Asymmetric nature of fishing practices in Tamil Nadu and the Northern Province of Sri Lanka: While the fishing community of Tamil Nadu uses mechanised bottom trawlers, its counterpart uses conventional forms of fishing, as trawling is banned in Sri Lanka. 

The Sri Lankan side of the Bay is considered to have more fishery resources than the Indian side which makes Indian fisherman to take the risk of crossing over to the Lankan side. 

What is the way forward? 

All stakeholders can decide to establish an international institution of stakeholders for regulating the fishing sector in the Bay. 

Efforts to shift fishermen of Tamil Nadu away from bottom trawling: Government had launched the scheme by the name Deep sea fishing project for this, but it has not yielded the desired results.  

There is need to incentivise deep sea fishing through subsidies and awareness as it has higher recurring cost per voyage and also is more time-consuming. 

Government can promote seaweed cultivation, open sea cage cultivation, seaweed cultivation, and sea/ocean ranching. 

Fish farmer producer organisations will encourage fisherfolk to adopt sustainable fishing practices.

Source: This post is based on the article “In Tamil Nadu, a lack of political will to end the Palk Bay conflict ” published in The Hindu on 29th Dec 2021.   

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