Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fishing and Fisherfolk on the India-Pakistan Nautical Border

Report of the Round Table on the issue of
Fishing and Fisherfolk on the India-Pakistan Nautical Border

19th April 2010
India International Centre
New Delhi

Co-organized – Boat Owner’s Association, Porbunder; Focus on the Global South, National Fishworkers Forum, Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, Peace Mumbai, Pakistan Institute for Labour Education & Research (PILER),

The fish worker activists from both India and Pakistan along with members of India-Pakistan Joint Judicial Committee on Prisoners and members of other civil society organizations met in New Delhi on April 19, 2010. They, during a day long meeting, discussed the issue of arrested Indian and Pakistani fishermen in detail. They decided to work together towards getting innocent and poor fishermen released. Kuldip Nayar introduced the subject and spoke on the current status of India-Pakistan Relations.

The following issues were discussed and decided upon -

1. Justice (Retd.) Nasir Aslam Zahid gave details about the 580 Indian fishermen who are languishing in the Pakistani prisons and around 460 of these imprisoned fishermen have completed their sentences.

2. Similarly, about 247 Pakistani prisoners including Fishermen have been granted Consular access to High Commission for Pakistan in New Delhi and to whose travel documents have also been issued by the High Commission. A large number of these Pakistani prisoners have completed their sentences or are minors. The group decided that all such Pakistani prisoners should be released without any further delay.

Recently, in the case of 17 Pakistani prisoners who had completed their sentence, the Indian Supreme Court bench of Justices Markandey Katju and R. M. Lodha in a recent judgment observed “How can the government keep them in detention in violation of the fundamental rights of a person for years together without resorting to the procedure of law?” “The right to life and liberty was not dependent on another country’s action.”

On the basis of this judgement, it was decided in the meeting that all those who have competed their sentences should be released with immediate effect. Failing which, a petition will be filed in the Supreme Court of India as a contempt of Court. Justice ®Rajinder Sachar has agreed to file the same on behalf of People’s Union for Civil Liberties.

Also it was decided in the meeting that a petition will be filed in the Apex Court of Pakistan demanding the release of all those Indian prisoners who have completed their sentences. Former Attorney General and Law Minister Iqbal Haider has taken the responsibility for the same.

3. Clear and unambiguous orders to the concerned departments of the two countries may also be issued to ensure compliance with the unanimous recommendations of the official India-Pakistan Judicial Committee on Prisoners.

4. The recommendations of the India-Pakistan Joint Judicial Committee on Prisoners, which inter alia recommended release of all Indian and Pakistani fishermen in custody, should be implemented immediately and the next meeting of the official committee should be held as soon as possible. Since August 2008 this official committee is inactive and it was decided to request the two Governments to activate this committee so that the committee comprising 8 retired High Court and Supreme Court Judges (4 from each country) can restart its working and make regular visits to the jails of the two countries and help in early release of prisoners. The committee was set up January 2007 by the Foreign Ministers of both the countries to recommend steps for humane treatment and expeditious release of their nationals from the respective prisons.

5. The proceedings of the round table also decided that Consular Access must be given within the stipulated (90 days) time as required by the Agreement on Consular Access (May 2008).

6. It was reported in the meeting by the Boat Owners Association that 444 Indian trawlers seized by the Pakistani authorities are lying in and around Karachi. A delegation of Boat Owners of Gujarat visited Pakistan in 2008 and found many trawlers are in good conditions and can be reused. Each trawler costs around 20-25 lakh rupees. We also demand that these trawlers, too, should be released immediately.

In the day long deliberations amongst this gathering it was also discussed -
• This problem of fisherfolk prisoners started only in 1989 and before that there was no issue.
• The common fisherfolk of both the countries still have no problem with each other and would happily allow communities to fish in each other’s nautical borders.
• It was also suggested that as a solution 25 nautical miles of the area should designated as a free zone, to be used by the fisherfolk of either country.
• It was suggested that all boats and trawlers should have GPS in order to track their direction and the border.
• It is necessary to resolve the Sir Creek issue.
• It was decided that in order to strengthen this movement it is important that there is a people-to-people contact between Indian and Pakistani fisherfolk.
• The issue needs to be more publicised in both the government and the media and also at the level of common people and civil society.
Some of the people who participated in the meeting were Kuldip Nayar, Justice ® Nasir Aslam Zahid, Iqbal Haider, Justice ® Rajinder Sachar, Karamat Ali, Jatin Desai, Bharat Modi, Jivan Jungi, Advocate M K Paul, Matanhy Saldanha, Varsha Rajan Berry, Gopal Tandel, Premabhai S Prabhaker, Budhiabhai Tandel, Dilip Sharaoji, Ashwin Jungi, Ravi Hemadri, Michael Koeberlein etc.

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