February 17, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we look at whether Sri Lanka had the right to sell off Indian boats that were captured by their navy. We also look at how liquor consumption has declined in Kerala, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Auction Olympics: Sri Lanka’s call to sell Indian boats
Given the economy, unless you come from serious family money, we’re pretty sure you have a nuanced understanding of neighbourly relations. The mundanely complicated hellos and see-you-arounds can drastically change your living situation in a fortnight. And attitudes stemming from internal conflicts are almost always the reason behind it. India and Sri Lanka have been stuck in such a rut for around 50 years now.
Just last week, as India was readying itself for the IPL auctions, Sri Lanka was busy hosting some bidding of their own. They took it upon themselves to auction off over 100 Indian boats in their custody. Sri Lanka says they had to do it as India kept delaying and denying reparations for their fishermen. But, from our side, Tamil Nadu thinks that the timing of it all seems rather suspect.
Today, we’re talking about fiddly fishing fights, enormous economic losses and inappropriate behaviour – the caustic relations of Palk Strait.
On 7 February, Sri Lanka auctioned 135 Indian fishing boats while their Foreign Minister was on a 3-day trip in India. According to officials, they were forced to do this as the vessels were seized within the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) of Sri Lanka. And two, they are legally allowed to do so as per their Fisheries (Regulation of Foreign Fishing Boats) Act.
But, what’s with the boats anyway? The whole fishing war in the Palk Bay between the Tamil fishermen of the two countries came about because of these boats. Back in the 70s, to deal with an economic crisis, the Indian government gave the fishermen of the South bigger and faster boats called trawlers. The end goal: exporting seafood to work through their slump.
Seeing India’s fishing subsidies and increased civilian presence in international waters, the two neighbours signed maritime border agreements in 1974 and 1976. Through several letters, they even agreed to stay out of each others’ waters for fishing. Now, an invisible International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) out at sea does not stop fishermen from going wherever the water takes them. That simply isn’t the life of a seaman, and those out at sea understood that.
In 1983, the Eelam war broke out in Sri Lanka. The Tamils and the government got caught up in a massive civil war, and the only people out at sea from Sri Lanka was the navy. By the time the war ended in 2009, India’s trawler trade had severely affected their marine life. And for the first time, the unspoken bond between the fishermen of the Palk Strait was broken.
Sri Lankan fishermen felt betrayed by the Indians’ engined boats while they had little canoes. And the Indian fishermen blamed the Centre’s complete disregard for their community for their fishing habits in Sri Lankan waters. Soon, the Sri Lankan navy got involved, detaining boats and fishermen in their waters, and now we have a boat auction to deal with.
The punishment fits the crime
First of all, it’s important to note that the boats being auctioned were not collected overnight. The complete collection of trawler vessels up for grabs came from years of illegal intrusions. That, according to Article 19(2) of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), is considered “prejudicial to the peace, good order or security” to Sri Lanka. The officials claim that the boats were found bottom trawling in the Sri Lankan side of the IMBL, something the island nation has already outlawed in two different clauses.
You see, bottom trawling is widely considered horrible for marine life and the ecosystem in general. It is a fishing technique where one basically runs heavy nets across the ocean floor to pick up any shrimp, plaice or deep-sea chanks, i.e. a large sea conch. This unselective and highly destructive form of fishing is commonly used by Indian fishermen in Palk Bay. Considering Sri Lanka doesn’t let its own fishermen bottom trawl the ocean, finding a foreign fleet do the same is bound to get things a little heated.
As mentioned in their Fisheries (Regulation of Foreign Fishing Boats) Act, foreign boats caught in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing are set to lose a lot. Violators will have to endure heavy fines, forfeit their fishing boat and equipment, hand over their catch and handle repatriation costs of their crew. The Act also allows officials to auction off the confiscated boats if deemed necessary, which it clearly did.
Sri Lanka’s Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda even said that the country had to take this drastic step. The boats were all confiscated before 2018, and 125 of the vessels have become unsalvageable due to decay. They were simply berthed along their coastline, taking up space and increasing pollution and the risk of a dengue outbreak. Given that India’s trawler trade has “destroyed” the northern Sri Lankan fishermen’s livelihood, the latter had even asked for around $2.5 million in assistance. India refused to provide compensation.
The boats simply needed to go as they were becoming a threat to public health. 2018 was 4 years ago, and water can be damaging. According to Devananda, “Even Indian officials inspected them and agreed they were not fit for use.” The money will be used to support the northern Sri Lankan fishermen.
The timing seems a little inappropriate
Sri Lanka, at the moment, is going through one of the worst economic crises the country has ever seen. While this crisis has been brewing since 2019, Miss Rona dropped in with her everlasting pandemic and things really went from bad to worse. To help with a looming nationwide power shortage, India offered $500 million in assistance to buy fuel for energy. Soon after, India and Sri Lanka came up with a “four-pronged” economic and currency swap package to handle the latter’s unfortunate situation.
Keeping this diplomatic assistance in mind, certain Indian officials have pointed out the strange timing in taking such a drastic step against an important neighbour. Recently, in December 2021, the Sri Lankan Fisheries Minister even tried to internationalise the long-standing fishing dispute. A development that has come about after China upped its outreach among Sri Lanka’s Tamil community. What is even stranger is that this is coming when Sri Lanka has reported some amount of distress over China using its financial muscle to overpower the island nation.
For all these years, Sri Lankan Tamils have, despite the conflicts, understood that Indian Tamil fishermen are fighting for their livelihood as well. Nobody wants to venture into dangerous waters, it’s simply done out of necessity. Now, given the recent protests outside Indian missions in Colombo and the headquarters in Jaffna in the north, the fishermen seem to have forgotten their brethren. On the Indian side, the fishermen of Tamil Nadu seem to have been caught between a Central government that dismisses their needs and fellow fishermen who are ready for a fight.
Even Tamil Nadu CM M K Stalin wrote to our PM, urging him to get involved to stop the boat auction. Turns out, several fishermen still had hopes of seeing their vessels again as they had already been “released by various Sri Lankan Courts following due judicial procedure.” It’s just that the physical exchange never happened. This, according to CM Stalin, is highly illegal and needs counter-action. He also said that, given the 56 fishermen still in Sri Lanka’s custody, the bilateral talks to mitigate the fishing issue will surely be adversely affected.
The question here is simple: why hurt a friend in need when they’ve been a friend indeed? And considering that trawler trade is illegal for Sri Lankan locals as well, the exact use of the auctioned trawler boats seem to be a mystery.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) Auctioning the Indian fisher boats was within Sri Lanka’s rights.
b) Auctioning the Indian fisher boats was too extreme an action from Sri Lanka.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
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For the Left:
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🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
Anganwadi workers stir (Haryana) – Thousands of Anganwadi workers started camping at Karnal, the hometown of Chief Minister, Manohar Lal Khattar. It’s their latest move as part of a protest demanding higher remuneration. They said the amount paid to them was meagre claiming they get paid less than a contractual unskilled worker, who gets ₹14,330-17,520. The state has said the workers are already getting the highest honorarium in north India.
Why it matters: Their strike entered the third month as their protest reached Karnal. Last month, several thousand courted arrests across the state, and supporting them were activists of various organisations and farmers. The increase in remuneration comes after Narendra Modi’s 2018 announcement of a ₹1,500 and ₹750 hike in honorarium. In December, Khattar announced a financial package for Anganwadi workers to the tune of ₹1 lakh and ₹50,000 for helpers who retire from service on December 31, 2021.
A decline in liquor consumption (Kerala) – For a few years now, liquor consumption in Kerala has been declining. According to the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS), during 2019-20, 19.9% of men and 0.2% of women consumed alcohol. In the previous NFHS survey, 37% of men and 1.6% of women consumed alcohol. The latest data also showed a decline in the overall sales volume of the Kerala State Beverages Corporation. In 2019-20, it sold 334.08 lakh cases, including Indian Made Foreign Liquor and beer. In 2015-16, it sold 355.95 lakh cases.
Why it matters: Kerala has never been a dry state, as the numbers suggest. In 2017, the Left Democratic Front government reversed the previous Congress-led United Democratic Front’s policy to shut all bars except those in 5-star hotels. For the state, revenue from liquor is important. During FY2018-19, revenue from IMFL and beer was ₹14,504.67 crore. Even after the pandemic set in, revenues didn’t decline. Last year, figures from the Kerala State Beverages Corporation (Bevco) showed revenue contribution till February 29 at ₹10,379.38 crores.
Waste to wealth initiative (West Bengal) – The Small Industries Development Bank of India launched the Waste to Wealth scheme in the state. In this scheme, benefits will be extended to women who make ornaments and showpieces made from fish scales in the Sundarbans. This will help them generate revenue, and later become trainers to pass on their skills and knowledge to others. SIDBI Chairman and MD Sivasubramanian Ramann said the work is being done to support artisans to become sustainable.
Why it matters: In October, the government of India launched a web portal called Waste to Wealth for sustainable development through community participation. It aims to help local artisans sell their products and earn a living wage. Part of the Waste to Wealth initiative is to help those impacted by cyclone Amphan that hit the state’s coastal districts in May 2020. Ramann met with MSME stakeholders, self-help groups, and officials from the government.
Reservations for trans persons (Rajasthan) – The Rajasthan High Court directed the state to provide reservations for trans persons in government jobs. The court gave the state government four months. The High Court reiterated the apex court’s examination of rights of transgender persons to appointments in public services and admissions to educational institutions. The state court ruled that the petitioner who came forward can’t be denied participation in the selection process.
Why it matters: While the state hasn’t followed the Supreme Court’s observations, it has made some strides on trans rights. Last July, the state approved ₹9 crores for the upliftment of transgender persons. It also decided to constitute Transgender Protection Cell. Other states have reservations for trans persons. Karnataka, for example, has a 1% reservation for transgender persons in any service or post in all categories of employment.
Preparing for natural disasters (Nagaland) – The Nagaland State Disaster Management Authority (NSDMA) has begun conducting mock exercises in all districts to prepare for natural disasters. Among them is response readiness in the aftermath of an earthquake. On February 15, a mock exercise simulating an 8.7 magnitude earthquake was conducted at Dimapur Government College. The exercises will be conducted in phases and conclude on April 20.
Why it matters: Nagaland’s capital Kohima is among 11 cities in India that fall under Zone-V, the most active region for an earthquake. Of the 11 locations, six were in the North East. According to the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) Compliance Audit on Disaster Management for the period ending March 31, 2019, the state wasn’t adequately geared up for natural disasters. It stated that there were no planning activities for disaster management in the state. It also showed that the state conducted only one mock drill each in 2014-15 and 2018-19.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
4.5 lakh – The number of new hires the Indian IT sector added during this fiscal. It’s the highest ever in a single year, with 44% of them being women.