Topic: General Studies 2 and 3
- India and its neighbourhood
- Security challenges in border areas
Fishermen issue of India & Pakistan
Context: Fishermen along the Coastal area of Gujarat at times end up in Jails of Pakistan
Do you Know?
- As per list of prisoners exchanged between India & Pakistan, 270 Indian fishermen and 54 civilian prisoners are in Pakistan’s prisons
- Likewise, India has 97 Pakistani fishermen and 265 civilian prisoners in its jails
What is the issue?
- As fishermen do not get ample fish on the Gujarat side, they have no option but to go farther and farther out into the sea.
- As they fish in mid-sea, they end up in waters controlled by Pakistan and are arrested by Pakistani authorities for illegally entering into their territory.
- The problem is aggravated by the dispute over the Sir Creek in Kutch and the failure to officially determine the maritime boundary between the two nations.
What is Sir Creek dispute?
- Sir Creek is a 96 km (60 mi) tidal estuary in uninhabited marshlands of Indus river delta on the border of India and Pakistan
- The Creek opens up in the Arabian Sea and roughly divides the Kutch region of Gujarat from the Sindh Province of Pakistan
- It was originally named Ban Ganga, but was later renamed after a British representative
- Sir Creek dispute between India & Pakistan lies in the interpretation of the maritime boundary line between Kutch and Sindh
- India claims that the boundary lies mid-channel according to international law and the Thalweg principle, while Pakistan claims that the boundary lies to the east of the creek
- Thalweg Principle states that river boundaries between two Countries may be divided by the mid-channel if the water-body is navigable
Consequences of Fishermen arrests
- Act of Innocence: Most of these are fishermen are those who unknowingly crossed the invisible line in the water between the countries.
- Impact on Livelihood: When fishermen are arrested, their boats are also confiscated. Even if they are released, their livelihoods are vulnerable till they get back possession of their boats from the other country.
- Burden on Women: When men are imprisoned in the other country, women bear the brunt of the load, while somehow holding their families together.
- Impact on Children of Fishermen: There are many examples across villages where the children of the arrested fishermen have lost their childhoods.
- Emotional Distress to Families: The families are barely aware of the status of jailed fishermen and left to fend for themselves until they return, which leads to emotional distress.
- Violation of Human Rights: On average, these arrested men would have spent one-and-a-half years in prisons. It has become an issue of survival for these arrested persons.
What would happen to jailed fishermen?
- In more friendly or less antagonistic circumstances, they would have been released after a formal procedure to check that they were really fishermen and not spies
- However, during the times of tension, the value of their lives lies at the mercy of the authorities. They often languish for years in detention centers even after completing their imprisonment.
Has there been any attempt by government to resolve this recurring issue?
- To address this issue, in 2008, India and Pakistan had formed a judicial committee consisting of four retired judges from each country.
- The committee used to visit prisons of the other country specifically to meet the prisoners, examine consular access, status of their health condition, and so on.
- It unanimously suggested release and repatriation of fishermen and a few women prisoners.
- The governments of both countries praised their work but did not implement the recommendations.
- The last meeting was held in October 2013. Five years later, there was a move to revive the panel. India nominated its four members but Pakistan did not.
Steps taken by the government to mitigate the problem
- The Indian government has undertaken a census of fishermen, preparing a database of information on fishermen and their boats to be used for more effective monitoring of fishing activities.
- The Indian Coast Guard has also begun installing tracking devices in fishing boats operating in the waters that has the ability to send out alerts disaster or when the boat is apprehended by another country
- Both countries should treat it as a humanitarian issue and take necessary steps to release and repatriate fishermen along with their boats
- It is also time that the two countries now consider adopting a ‘no-arrest policy’ in the case of fishermen.
Connecting the dots:
- Fishermen issue between India and Sri Lanka