India and Sri Lanka will hold a virtual meeting of their joint working group on fisheries on December 30 that will take up the issue of the recent apprehension of 36 Indian fishermen and seizure of five fishing vessels by the Sri Lanka Navy.
The established bilateral mechanisms for discussions and cooperation on the issue of fishermen could not be convened because of COVID-19 related restrictions and the two sides have now mutually agreed to hold a meeting of the joint working group at the end of the month, Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava told a weekly news briefing on Thursday.
The Government attaches “high priority” to the issue of the apprehension of Indian fishermen and seizure of their vessels by the Sri Lankan Navy on December 14 and 15, which was also reported by the Government of Tamil Nadu, he said.
“We are in close touch with the Government of Sri Lanka through our High Commission in Colombo and the consulate in Jaffna to verify the information and to ensure consular access and facilitate the early release of the fishermen and their boats,” he added. The issue of fishermen and the seized fishing vessels have been on the agenda of discussions between India and Sri Lanka for many years, and the two Governments have been “seized of this essentially humanitarian matter at high levels”. Srivastava said: “There exists a common understanding to handle the matter in a humanitarian manner.”
The joint working group, led on the Indian side by the secretary of the Department of Fisheries, is expected to address all issues related to fisheries between India and Sri Lanka, including release of apprehended fishermen and fishing boats, modalities of communication between relevant authorities on the two sides, cooperation in dealing with issues related to livelihood of fishing communities and other matters, he said.