Special Correspondent

It calls for South Asian agreement on fishing

For the first time, a Pakistani delegation travelled to Gujarat and Diu to interact with the families of the fishermen arrested and jailed for violating territorial waters. The team members appealed to both the Indian and Pakistan governments to immediately release the fisherfolk, demarcate the maritime boundaries and offer compensation to the families of those who have lost their livelihood.

The delegation called for a South Asian agreement on fishing so that there could be a system of registering fishermen from these countries and giving them licences.

Justice (retd.) Nasir Aslam Zahid, former judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and member of India-Pakistan Judicial Committee on Prisoners; Iqbal Haider, former Law Minister; Karamat Ali, trade union leader and peace activist; and Jatin Desai activist from India, travelled over 1,000 km to Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Veraval, Mangrol and Porbandar to meet the families whose sons or husbands are in Pakistani jails.

Speaking to journalists on Tuesday, Justice Zahid said the fishermen were arrested under the Foreigners Act of 1947 and the maximum punishment was six months. By the time the sentences were handed out they had languished in jail for that period. The fishermen should be sent back by boat and not released at the Wagah border. There were some 512 seized Pakistan boats and after meeting the families, he said, he found out that these boats cost Rs. 35-40 lakh each. In addition, the families borrowed heavily to fund the boats and they were in dire straits after the bread winners were caught. In India, there were some 200 trawlers belonging to Pakistani fishermen.

In April, the India Pakistan Judicial Committee on Prisoners, formed in 2007, issued a statement, demanding that all fishermen be released since they had not committed any crime, were not terrorists and they had not intentionally trespassed into the waters of the other country. The boundaries near Sir Creek too were not defined and as a result of lack of political will these poor fisherfolk continued to suffer, he said.

The delegation said they were impressed by the quiet docile community that was very disciplined.

While some 442 fishermen were released last year, some 240 odd continue to languish in each country.

Mr. Karamat Ali said the two governments must lay the basis for dealing with the problem by alerting people who strayed into foreign waters and devising a humane system of repatriation. Failure to demarcate boundaries was a result of the ‘incompetence’ shown by the two governments.

The fishermen were treated as prisoners of war and they did not get much sympathy. “They are poor and they don’t have a voice and no one is elected from their areas. They are a voiceless people and an avoidable misery is heaped on the citizens of both countries,” he pointed out. The boats seized must also be returned and adequate compensation paid to the suffering families.

Mr. Haider said Pakistan Commerce minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim would visit India soon and the government must take up the issue of fishermen with him. There have been seven rounds of negotiations between the two countries on various issues but it was disappointing that it had not resulted in a better visa regime, improved people-to-people access or trade.

Source:The Hindu – 20.09.2011