No Indian fisherman is in Sri Lankan custody and the government is engaged with the neighbouring nation to ensure that the fisherfolk carry on their livelihood safely, Parliament was informed today.
"Presently, there are no Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan custody on fisheries related charges. However, some Indian nationals have been arrested in Sri Lankan waters on charges of smuggling narcotics and contrabands," External Affairs Minister S M Krishna said in Rajya Sabha.
He said officials from Indian High Commission in Colombo and Consulate in Jaffna are in regular touch with detained Indian nationals and extending all possible consular and legal assistance to them, he said.
Amid uproar in the House, Krishna tabled the statement in response to a Calling Attention Motion by V Maitreyan (AIADMK) and another member.
He said the government and the High Commission of India in Sri Lanka have consistently taken up issues relating to incidents of firing or apprehension of Indian fishermen with Sri Lankan government so that its navy acts with restraint and the fishermen are treated in a humane manner.
"...As soon as the reports of apprehension of Indian fishermen are received, the government through diplomatic channels takes up the matter of their expeditious release and repatriation with Sri Lankan authorities," he said
"As a result, fishermen apprehended by the Sri Lankan Navy have been released and repatriated expeditiously," he said.
The minister said India continues to remain engaged with Sri Lanka to ensure fishermen on both sides "continue to pursue their livelihood in a safe, secure and sustainable manner".
Krishna said the Centre was working with the concerned state governments keeping in mind that the issues of fishermen affect both countries and there was need to sensitise Indian fishermen to respect International Maritime Boundary Line.
He said the Centre has requested the state governments to finalise dates for a proposed meeting of the representatives of fishermen association from the two countries.
Krishna said he raised the issue of safety and security of Indian fishermen during his Sri Lanka visit in January.
In October 2008, the government had reached an understanding with Sri Lankan government to put in place practical arrangements to deal with bonafide fishermen from the two countries crossing the maritime boundary.
As part of these practical arrangements, it was agreed that there would be no firing on Indian vessels and Indian fishing vessels would not tread into sensitive areas designated by the government of Sri Lanka along its coastline.
"Following the October 2008 understanding, incidents of attack and apprehension of bonafide Indian fishermen by Sri Lankan authorities have significantly come down," Krishna said.