Event ReportsPublished on May 05, 2007
As part of the 'Maritime Security Programme (MSP) which was launched by the then Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Arun Prakash on 19th May 2006 at ORF Chennai, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), ORF Chennai Chapter conducted a day long seminar on "Tamil Nadu Coastal Development and Security: Challenges and Responses" on 5th May 2007.
Tamil Nadu coast line needs protection

As part of the ‘Maritime Security Programme (MSP) which was launched by the then Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Arun Prakash on 19th May 2006 at ORF Chennai, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), ORF Chennai Chapter conducted a day long seminar on “Tamil Nadu Coastal Development and Security: Challenges and Responses” on 5th May 2007.

The Seminar was conducted at ORF Conference room. Commodore Vasan, Additional Director P&D after welcoming the participants took them through an audiovisual on ORF since 1990 at which time Shri R.K. Mishra started this think tank with a motto to ‘building partnership for a global India’. Over the years, the organization has evolved and now is an integral entity providing informed inputs on National and International issues including National security and a trusted partner helping the Government in policy and decision-making. ORF has also become an important destination for international organizations seeking an effective intellectual partner in India. Thereafter, Cmde RS Vasan provided an overview of the seminar and touched up on the concept that necessitated such an initiative by ORF.

The daylong seminar was divided into 2 sessions. The morning session was dedicated to various Developmental and Fishing Issues in Tamil Nadu. The theme for the afternoon session was on the Security Challenges and Responses with detailed examination of the security measures  in Navy, Coast guard and marine police wing.

Former Director General Secretary of GOI, Mr R. Swaminathan while delivering the opening remarks of the seminar highlighted Tamil Nadu’s geographic and strategic importance because of nuclear research in Kalpakam, upcoming nuclear power facility in Kodankulam, offshore and onshore hydrocarbon facility, upsurge development activity in Tamil Nadu and the surrounding ports. He outlined the concerns and challenges of the coastal development and drew the attention of the participants on the urgent requirement to initiate meaningful measures to handle the fishing and security issues in Tamil Nadu.

The challenge was accentuated in Tamil Nadu’s coastal area because of LTTE activities, poverty among the fishing community and the connectivity issues of the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Manner. Fishermen, who comprise one third of the population here, are unable to make a good living and hence improvement of the fishing technology was the need of the hour.

Captain Sainath of the TN Maritime Board   presented the Coastal Development Plans of the state. He gave developmental plans for Government ports like Cuddalore, Nagapattinam, Rameshswaram, Kanniyakumari, Colachel etc. and captive ports like Kattupalli, Ennore Minor Ports (PY-03 oil field), Thirukkadaiyur, Koodankulam and Thiruvalluvar Port (2000mw coal). He mentioned that the Government was keen on modernizing these ports, development of port-based industries, augmentation of infrastructure and offshore Hydrocarbon fields.

Mr R. Thillai Govindan, Jt Directory Fisheries, TN Government brought out the issues and challenges of Fisheries in TN. He mentioned that there is high demand of fish for commercial purposes and export as the fish found here are free of pollution. However, fishing in open sea is a hazardous occupation leading to loss of lives and drifting of Indian fishermen. Government has taken various initiatives to ensure Sea Safety   by providing, insurance and diesel subsidy in addition to educating the fishing community.

The Joint Director brought out that Seamless communication and network system has also been    started. Tamilnadu Marine fisheries Regulation Act and rules passed in 1983 mentions that      fishing should not be done beyond 3NM. Fisheries are a major source of conflict between Srilanka and the Tamilnadu fisheries. He drew attention to the killing of innocent fishermen and said that no one should resort to killing of fishermen. They could be arrested, detained and tried for an offence of crossing the IMBL.

Antony Benchilas of Alliance for the release of the innocent fishermen (ARIF) brought out the historical perspective of India and Srilanka conflict regarding fisheries. He pointed out that fishing has become a cross border issue because of scarcity of resources, increased fuel price and the conflict between security and livelihood. He suggested – co-operation between India and Srilanka in recognizing the maritime boundaries, joint patrolling and taking a humanitarian approach for early release of the captive fishermen on either side that would help alleviate tensions in the region.

Dr.V.Suryanarayan , Former Head of the South and Southeast Asian Studies of Madras University  asserting that “We can choose our friends but we cannot choose our neighbors.’’  Dr Suryanarayan traced the historical facts between the two Nations, and highlighted the problems of the fishermen who fished with out borders. While examining both long term and short-term solutions he proposed that issues of perpetual leasing of fishing grounds as well as reciprocal licensing agreements between India and Sri Lanka need active consideration.

PM Amza Deputy High Commissioner for Southern India   brought out the Srilankan perspective on the fishing and related issues.  Being an island nation and a non-vegetarian society majority of the Srilankan population depend on fishing. He stated that there are various issues, which affected the livelihood of the poor fishermen on the Sri Lankan Coast who faced many challenges due to the ethnic conflict on their shores.  Firstly, they were not allowed to fish in certain areas. Secondly, there were restricted days on which they could fish. Thirdly, they came in to conflict with large number of Indian fishing vessels that routinely strayed in to their areas resulting in heightened tensions.  It was well known that the Indian fishing vessels  fished in Sri Lankan waters in large numbers due to the non-availability of fish on the Indian side.

While being receptive to examining the solutions suggested, he felt that the solution to these problems should basically lie in respecting the livelihood of the Srilankan fishermen, stopping the use of Indian fishing boats for LTTE illegal activities and enhancing the role of the joint working committee between Colombo and Delhi to find practical solutions to the vexed problems. The first session on Development and Fishing issues concluded with detailed discussions on the problems and the solutions.

It was brought out that having agreed to a demarcated boundary between the two countries, there is a need to respect the sanctity of IMBL. It was clear that Tamil Nadu and the Centre needed to do lot more in ensuring that the fishermen of Tamil Nadu were provided with better employment opportunities, which would help them in being weaned away from their basic vocation.

Better facilities for ensuring that their lives were protected by provisioning of Global Positioning System, Communication devices and education of the community would alleviate the sufferings of the fishermen.

The post lunch session was devoted to examining the ‘Security Challenges and responses’. D. Mukherjee IPS, Director General of Police (Tamil Nadu delivered the opening remarks. He expressed concern at the larger dimensions of the nature of threat posed to our Nation and to our long coasts.  The possibility of nexus between elements inimical to our national interests was some thing that could not be ruled out due to the pattern of operations. He indicated that the threat in specific terms could result due to the Refugee route that could be used by the LTTE, the fishermen who could be driven to smuggling due to lack of fishing avenues, and host of other reasons in the State. However, he indicated that the security agencies now are better prepared to counter the threat. He made a specific mention on the creation of the Marine Police Wing that now had cadres trained by the Indian Coast Guard and was in the process of acquiring its assets to protect the coast.

Commodore P. Van Haltern, the Naval Office in Charge of Tamil Nadu presented the naval Perspective. He highlighted the salients of Op-Tasha (1983), a Naval security initiative renovated in 1990 that was still in operation today.  He explained the security measures that were implemented in the area and also brought out the challenges due to the presence of the Sea tigers. Commander S Vasudev thereafter went in to specific details of the ‘means and methods’ which were put in to place. It was acknowledged that fishing by Indian fishermen on the Sri Lankan side did pose security problems.

Commandant Rama Rao of the Indian Coast Guard shared the perceptions of the Eastern Region on the issues in Palk Bay. In addition to being designated as the lead intelligence agency for issues at sea in the region, he brought out that the Regional Headquarter is responsible for the administration of the entire east coast. The Coast guard stations in ORF Chennai, Pondicherry, and Mandapam and at Tuticorin provided both operational and logistic support to the units deployed as part of the Operation Tasha.  The two hovercrafts from Mandapam enabled shallow water operations and were also used to transport the refugees who on many occasions were dropped in deep waters by the Sri Lankan boats. These were meant to overcome the problems of shallow water operations both in Palk Bay and in the Gulf of Mannar.  He also highlighted the Search and Rescue role of the Coast Guard that covered vast areas in the Indian Ocean. The ill preparedness of the fishermen to face the elements in the Bay of Bengal added to the woes of the fishermen who ventured out in their country craft.

Mr.S Davidson IPS, Zonal Director Of Narcotic Control Bureau  emphasized on the aspects of continuous illegal smuggling, trafficking that posed a direct challenge to the Indian security. The difficulty was in the sealing of coastal borders due to the involvement of the locals who had thorough knowledge of the terrain and also of the pattern of operations. It was highlighted that most of the arrests/seizures related to drug offences were made deep inland and rarely on the high seas.  He explained that better co-ordination, improving the quality of intelligence might resolve the problem.

Mr. N.B.J Rosayro, First Secretary at the Sri Lankan   High commission in New Delhi provided the Sri Lankan perspective and analysed the security scenario both due to the presence of the LTTE as well as due to the challenges of fishermen from Sri Lanka who faced stiff competition from the Indian counterparts. Supported by facts and figures, he highlighted that the Sri Lankan Navy by and large has conducted itself with utmost responsibility. However, the DGP of Tamil Nadu brought out that the LTTE had a hand in various abductions and killings.

Mr. Swaminathan while summing up the seminar proceedings suggested that there is a need to examine all the related issues with out emotionalising and politicising either the fishing or the security issues.  He re-emphasised the need to balance the developmental issues with that of security and developing appropriate mechanisms more so in the sensitive Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar.

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