The Indian and Pakistani governments should sign a “no-arrest” pact for the protection of fishermen straying into each other’s waters, fishermen community from Gujarat has demanded. A representation in this regard was handed over to 12-member Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs, led by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor. The committee was on a two-day visit to the Union Territory of Diu and Porbandar in Gujarat, which ended yesterday. The demand for having such a pact comes in the backdrop of fishermen of both the countries regularly being arrested and their boats seized by each others security agencies from near the international maritime boundary. They also demanded that the both the countries should release all the arrested fishermen and their seized boats from each others custody. This is for the first time that the parliamentary panel visited both the places to understand various issues related to the fishing community. “Often, we cannot understand the real problems faced by the people sitting in Delhi. So, we have come here to meet the fishing community and listen to their grievances,” Tharoor told reporters.
President of Porbandar Machhimar Boat Association Bharat Modi, former president of Porbandar Boat Association Manish Lodhari, president of Veraval Boat Association Gopal Fofandi and Rajya Sabha MP Chunibhai Gohil, who is also a fishermen leader, were among others who made the representations to the panel in Porbandar. Lodhari said that they have asked the committee to have a “no-arrest” pact between the two countries for the fishermen. Talking to PTI over phone, Gohil said, “We have also suggested that there should be a Standard Operating Procedure (SOPs) between the two countries when fishermen are arrested.” “Both sides can agree to a set of SOPs to expedite the release and handing over of fishermen in each other’s custody on completion of respective legal and procedural formalities,” the Rajya Sabha MP said.
At present, there are around 300 Indian fishermen in Pakistan’s custody, while the number of boats seized by it stands at 900. The boats have not been handed back since 2004 except for 57 boats which were released as a goodwill gesture after Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif visited Delhi to take part in swearing in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. Gohil said, “As part of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) both sides should agree to intensify cooperation on patrolling and to institute periodic interaction between the Coast Guard of the two countries.” “Infact, detained fishermen should be immediately released after carrying out proper searches and verification of documents,” he said. Tharoor assured the fishermen that he would take up their problems with the Government of India.