The struggles of Douglas Devananda – NewsIn.Asia
By Sugeeswara Senadhira/Ceylon Today
Colombo, February 14: India is well aware that fishermen in Tamil Nadu are guilty of using banned bottom trawls to catch fish in the Palk Strait, thus destroying rich fish breeding grounds. They cross the maritime border to fish illegally in Sri Lankan waters.
The Indians reluctantly admitted this officially during the bilateral talks to resolve the issue. Indian authorities have called on Sri Lanka to adopt a humanitarian approach towards Tamil Nadu fishermen fishing illegally in Sri Lankan waters.
As there was no final settlement on the issue of the confiscated Indian fishing vessels, Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda ordered an immediate auction of the vessels, captured for illegal fishing in Sri Lankan waters and using the bottom trawl nets prohibited. Last week, 140 Indian ships were auctioned for several hundred thousand rupees. However, other auctions were temporarily halted as letters were exchanged between India and Sri Lanka as well as between Chennai and New Delhi.
India would like the Sri Lankan authorities to discuss the matter with a delegation from the State of Tamil Nadu regarding the modalities for finalizing the disposal of Indian fishing vessels that were sunk in Sri Lanka. New Delhi has asked Colombo to facilitate the talks after Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister, MP Stalin, wrote to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking him to intervene to stop the auction of more than 100 seized boats owned by Indian fishermen.
Fisheries Minister Devananda defended the decision to auction the boats saying it was to raise funds for suffering northern fishermen. Moreover, the boats are sunk and have become an environmental problem. These are breeding grounds for dengue mosquitoes.
Devananda said India had failed to deliver the aid it had promised to fishermen in the north. He said he had earlier requested Indian aid of LKR 500 million to support northern fishermen, whose nets and livelihoods have been destroyed by bottom trawlers operated by Indian fishermen.
Not suitable for use
“India has said that they cannot provide compensation but will support livelihood programs for fishermen. We are still awaiting an update on this,” he told media. Devananda is under pressure from northern fishermen who blame him for their fate and has been asked to enforce Sri Lankan laws on bottom trawling and illegal fishing.
According to the minister, the vessels auctioned in Jaffna were mostly seized before 2018. “Even the Indian authorities inspected them and agreed that they were not fit for use. They insisted that if there was an auction, the money should go to the Indian side. As we have not yet received Indian aid for the fishermen in the North, affected by the Indian trawlers, the Department of Fisheries has decided to proceed with the auction, so that the money can be used to support our fishermen “, did he declare.
Indian Arrest Warrant
India is in talks with Minister Devananda, despite an open warrant for his arrest in India. Police named Devananda as the third defendant in the indictment in a case relating to a shooting incident in Choolaimedu in Tamil Nadu on November 1, 1986, in which one person was killed.
When the case was resumed last week, the magistrate took seriously the prosecution’s arguments that police were not cooperating with the trial in the more than three-decade-old murder case. The magistrate issued a bail warrant against the police officer in charge of the investigation.
Devananda, the “military commander” of the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) was living in a safe house in Tamil Nadu when the shooting took place between his group and strangers. Devananda and nine other Sri Lankans were arrested in connection with this, but fled after being released on bail.
Later, Devanada left the EPRLF and formed his own group, the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP). He then joined mainstream Sri Lankan politics and entered Parliament as a representative for Jaffna District. However, the case is still pending in the Chennai court and a non-releasable warrant was subsequently issued against all defendants including Devananda.
After becoming a minister, Devananda asked the court to overturn the warrant. The Indian Procuratorate later obtained court permission to split the case and prosecute Devananda, with the other defendants still at large. In accordance with orders from the Madras High Court, Devananda, who was declared a delinquent by the Magistrate Court, appeared before him via video link through the office of the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka for the trial, which began in 2016. .
Arguing that he was unconnected to the murder, Douglas asked to be acquitted of the murder charge. Last year, Additional Attorney General Prabhavathy told the court that the police were not cooperating in the case over the production of prosecution witnesses for cross-examination. Hearing Judge M Shanthi then issued a releasable warrant against the investigator from Choolaimedu Police Station and released the case for a rehearing.
Now India wants to cooperate with Fisheries Minister Devanada to solve the problem of fishermen and he has expressed his willingness to hold talks. He held online talks with representatives of fishermen from Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, who attended a meeting hosted by Sri Lanka’s Deputy High Commissioner, Dr Venkateshwaran, at his office in Chennai last week. The representatives urged Minister Devananda to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. They also called on Sri Lanka not to arrest those fishing in the Palk Strait. They urged the minister to stop the auctioning of boats that Sri Lanka had seized over the years.
G Manohar, a representative of the Akkarapettai fishermen in Nagapattinam, told the media that they had stressed to the Minister of Fisheries the imperative need to find a permanent resolution to the conflict between the two countries.
“A joint committee should be set up with representatives from both countries for a resolution,” Manohar said.
Colombo and New Delhi are aware of the sensitivity of the problem and the requirement for a lasting solution as it has become an explosive one with multiple protests from northern Tamil fishermen accusing Tamil Nadu fishermen of illegal fishing and destruction fish-rich areas using bottom trawling methods for a quick win.