Indo-Sri Lanka Palk Bay conflict

Ques. Throw the light on the Palk bay Conflict between India and Sri Lanka. What measure should be taken to resolve the issue?


The Palk Bay region, separates the coastal regions of Tamil Nadu from northern parts of Sri Lanka. Fishing conflicts in the Indo-Sri Lankan waters in the Palk Bay have worsened leading to arrest, detention and even death of Indian fishermen. The indiscriminate expansion of fishing capacity in the Indian waters is the root of the problem. The rich fishing waters, especially lucrative on the Sri Lanka side of the maritime boundary, became a bone of contention between Tamil Nadu fishermen and the Sri Lanka Navy during the years of the ethnic conflict. With the declaration of a ceasefire between the Sri Lanka Government and the Tamil Tigers, a new dimension has been added to the problem. Sri Lankan fishermen have resumed fishing operations; however, they find poaching by Indian trawlers into Sri Lanka waters to be a major hindrance to their livelihood. The irony of fisheries in the Palk Strait is that while the trawling ground is limited, trawlers are unlimited. Sri Lankan Navy personnel have on occasion fired at and killed Indian fishermen for fishing in the narrow Palk Strait. Sri Lanka has also arrested several Indian fishermen for crossing the IMBL. The Indian fishermen, the majority of whom are ethnically Tamil, largely allege that the areas in which they conduct their fishing activities should not be a major issue given that Tamil fishermen have traditionally operated in these areas.

One of the main issue is that the Indian trawlers employ large nets that sweep the ocean floor, trapping not only non-target organisms, but also a lot of young fish too. This affects the breeding cycle, and has led to the depletion of marine resources in Indian seas. Sri Lankan fishermen now fear the same depletion will occur in their waters if trawling continues. Of the nearly two lakh people, a fifth of the Northern Province’s population — who depend on fisheries for their income, fishermen like him living in Mannar and Jaffna are among the worst-hit by the Indian trawlers. Mannar alone has nearly 40,000 people whose lives are tied to fishing activity along its 163 km long-coastline. Compounding the issue are a few local fishermen engaging in banned fishing methods, including bottom-trawling, citing the Indian trawlers as the reason. With these challenges looming large, small-scale fishermen who own plastic boats are severely affected. According to  the president of Federation of Mannar District Fishermen Associations, Many of the fishermen have lost their nets while some have mortgaged their assets to cope with the crisis, having nothing more to lose.


  • The goal of the current process is to work out an agreement that reduces the use of force against Indian fishermen straying near or into Sri Lankan waters, and streamlining judicial procedures so that Sri Lanka can respond to fishing violations by Indian fishermen in a manner agreeable to the government of Tamil Nadu.
  • The Joint Working Group on the fishing issue should be composed of central government officials from both countries and individuals representing the fishermen’s interest.
  • Govt. of Tamil Nadu should initiate certain policies so as to ensure, foster and protect the interest of Tamil fishermen without depriving the livelihood of Sri Lankan fishermen.
  • Strong and robust diplomatic response is needed, considering that Tamil Nadu has to necessarily think of deep sea fishing in its pursuit of a long-term solution to the Palk Bay Crisis.

The issue of fishermen from India and Sri Lanka crossing the international maritime boundary has led to a conflict between fishermen of both countries. The trawlers pose a serious threat to marine resources and in the long run, it would affect not just fishermen of northern Sri Lanka, but all fishermen in the region, therefore the issue needs an urgent solution by the govt. of both the countries.

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