Approximately 167 Indian fishermen are currently in jails across Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the Narendra Modi government told the Rajya Sabha on Thursday. In a written reply to a question, Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh said that while 20 fishermen have been jailed by Sri Lankan authorities, 147 are being detained in Pakistan, PTI reported.
Singh said the Indian government was regularly taking up the issue with both countries, adding that a total of 1,566 fishermen had been released from Pakistani and Sri Lankan jails in the countries in the last two years. “Our High Commissions in Colombo and Islamabad provide humanitarian and legal assistance to the apprehended fishermen,” Singh said. Another 61 civilians are believed to be in Pakistani jails, according to another reply by Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar.
India has also set up a Joint Working Group with Sri Lanka to “help find a permanent solution to all fishermen issues,” Singh said. The government’s replies came even as five fishermen from Tamil Nadu were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy on Wednesday night for allegedly trawling in the country’s territorial waters, a fisheries department official said on Thursday. The men from Jegadapattinam in the Pudukottai district were fishing near Neduntheevu and were taken to Jaffna after being arrested.
While thousands of fishermen have been detained by both countries in recent years, the Indian government and civil society organisations have taken steps to secure their release. Between December 2016 and January, Pakistan released a total of 447 fishermen as part of a “goodwill gesture”. Many of the fishermen had been in jail for over a year.