New Delhi, Mar 25 (PTI) India is taking up the issue of the fishermen detained in Sri Lanka along with their boats, including 16 who are currently in the custody of the island nation, at the highest level to bring them back, the government informed Parliament on Friday.
The Lankan Navy arrested 16 Indian fishermen from Tamil Nadu on Thursday for the alleged violation of its maritime boundary. Officials said 12 of them were picked up while fishing near Katchatheevu and the rest from the Gulf of Mannar.
Union Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan also told the Lok Sabha that the safety and security of every Indian is a matter of utmost importance for the Centre and it is bringing back every Indian in distress from anywhere in the world.
He said there have been periodic instances of Indian fishermen being apprehended by Sri Lankan authorities for allegedly crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) and fishing in Sri Lankan waters.
The minister said according to available information, in the last three years, a total of 329 Indian fishermen were arrested, of whom 305 were from Tamil Nadu.
Of the 96 Indian fishermen who were arrested by Sri Lankan authorities in 2022, the government has secured the release of 80, he said, adding that 29 of them were repatriated on March 10.
“Barring 16, we have brought back all the fishermen from Sri Lanka. We are continuously working with Sri Lanka to bring back everyone, including the 16 fishermen currently held,” Muraleedharan said during the Question Hour.
A total of 88 Indian fishing boats are in Sri Lankan custody, he said.
The Centre remains engaged with the Sri Lankan government for an early release and repatriation of Indian fishermen along with the fishing boats,” he said.
Several MPs from Tamil Nadu have raised the issue and sought the Centre’s intervention for the early release and repatriation of the fishermen.
Muraleedharan said the Centre has been taking up the issue of the detained fishermen at the highest level (in Sri Lanka), including a “2+2” meeting between the foreign ministers and the fisheries ministers of the two countries.
“We also have a joint working group, which is meeting on Friday. The Indian High Commission also seeks consular access and provides essential items to the fishermen in custody,” he added.
The minister said whenever an issue of detention of fishermen comes up, the Centre takes it up with the authorities concerned, gets consular access, provides provisions to those detained and takes all possible steps for their repatriation along with their boats.
Referring to a recent repatriation of 61 fishermen from the Seychelles, Muraleedharan said as soon as the government came to know about them — 56 were from Tamil Nadu while the rest were from Assam and Kerala — action was taken and through a series of interventions, all of them were freed and brought back home in an Indian Air Force aircraft.
He also cited the recent evacuation of 22,500 Indians from Ukraine despite difficulties to buttress the point that the Centre takes care of the Indians in distress in foreign lands. PTI ACB RC
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