The Madras High Court on Thursday dismissed as not maintainable a plea seeking a direction to the Union government to enforce the 1974 agreement between India and Sri Lanka in letter and spirit to ensure fishing rights of Indian fishermen in the international waters.
Refusing to entertain the plea, the First Bench of Chief Justice S.K. Kaul and Justice R. Mahadevan said, “This court has no jurisdiction to enforce a writ of the Sri Lankan government. Counsel for the petitioner did strenuously seek to contend that the said relief is not being played by the Sri Lankan government, but effectively in our opinion, that is the relief he has prayed for, though it may be couched in some other language.”
Noting that these are matters which have to be left to the diplomatic channels of two countries, the Bench added, “There is no doubt that the problem exists, but a solution cannot be arrived at by issuing a writ of mandamus and that too indirectly affecting what the Sri Lankan government does, that being the grievance. We thus leave this issue to the wisdom of the government authorities.”
The petitioner, Fisherman Care, an association working for the rights of fishermen wanted the court to delete the relevant portion of a letter dated March 23, 1976, exchanged between the then Foreign Secretary of India and the Secretary to the Ministry of the Government of Sri Lanka, which takes away the traditional fishing rights of Indian fishermen to fish in the waters between the two countries.
Relying upon the agreement signed between the two governments recognising the ownership of the island by Sri Lanka, the petitioner said, “Article 6 of the agreement ensures the traditional fishing rights of the Indian fishermen in the waters between the two countries. The provision states that vessels of India and Sri Lanka shall enjoy in each other’s waters such rights as they have traditionally enjoyed therein.”
Pointing out the subsequent letter exchanged between the Foreign Secretary of India and the Secretary of the Ministry to the Government of Sri Lanka, which took away the traditional rights violating the agreement, the petitioner said, “The letters are only executive instructions, and instructions cannot supersede the provisions of the legally valid agreement entered between the two countries.”
The petitioner further alleged that taking advantage of the letter, the Sri Lankan Navy is preventing Indian fishermen who engage in fishing in Palk Strait by opening fire and arresting them.
Claiming that the petitioner has made representations on the issue to the Union government on November 24, 2015, and on February 6, the petitioner submitted that till date no action has been taken on the representations.