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Statement (Excerpts) by EAM on “the steps taken by GOI for relief and resettlement of Tamils in Sri Lanka" in Lok Sabha

August 26, 2011

Hon’ble Madam Speaker,

At the outset, allow me to mention that I fully share the concerns and sentiments raised by the Hon’ble Members of the House during the discussion regarding Sri Lanka Tamils. India-Sri Lanka bilateral relations are based upon shared historical, cultural, ethnic and civilizational ties and extensive people-to-people interaction. In recent years, this relationship has become multifaceted and diverse, encompassing all areas of contemporary relevance.

For nearly three-decades, Sri Lanka has borne the brunt of terrorism. The end of the long period of armed conflict in Sri Lanka in May 2009, left around 3,00,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) living in camps in Northern Sri Lanka and general devastation of infrastructure in the affected areas.

Let me assure the Hon’ble Members that since the end of conflict in Sri Lanka, our focus has been on the welfare and well being of the Tamils citizens of Sri Lanka. Their rehabilitation and rebuilding have been of the highest and most immediate priority.

The Prime Minister announced in June 2009 a grant of Rs. 500 crores for relief, rehabilitation and resettlement work in Sri Lanka. Towards this humanitarian effort, India dispatched 2.5 lakh family relief packs, deployed an emergency field hospital, two consignments of medicines for the use of IDPs, conducted an artificial limb fitment camp and deployed seven de-mining teams in Northern Sri Lanka. India also gifted more than 10,400 metric tons of shelter material and 4 lakh cement bags for the IDPs. To review the agricultural activities in Northern Sri Lanka India gifted 95,000 agricultural starter packs, seeds and 500 tractors for the use of IDPs to revive agricultural activities in Northern Sri Lanka. We have been informed by representatives of Sri Lankan Tamils that the tractors, seeds, agricultural implements gifted by the Government of India has greatly benefited the resettlement of people and has contributed to lowering the cost of food production in the area.

India also announced the construction of 50,000 houses, mainly for IDPs in Sri Lanka. In November 2010, I inaugurated a pilot project for construction of 1000 houses at Ariyalai in Jaffna. Work on ground has started and houses are beginning to come up. It has to be kept in mind that construction is taking place in largely inaccessible areas, in many cases has to be freed of mines and other explosive ordinance.

Government of India has given Line of Credit of about US $ 800 million for restoration of Northern Railway Lines. Apart from the above India is also assisting in the rehabilitation of the Kanakesanthurai (KKS) harbour, restoration of Duraiappa stadium and construction of Cultural Centre at Jaffna and vocational training centres at Batticaloa and Nuwara Eliya.

Government of India is also taking up projects in Northern Sri Lanka in the fields of education and health, for the repair of school buildings and supply of equipment to upgrade hospitals. Government has set aside funds for taking up these projects of a humanitarian nature. In 2009-10, it spent Rs. 69 crores and in 2010-11 Rs 94 crores towards the welfare, relief, resettlement and rehabilitation of IDPs and the reconstruction of Northern Sri Lanka. The Government has allocated Rs 290 crores for the purpose in 2011-12.

Our primary objective in all that we are doing in Sri Lanka is to ensure the welfare and wellbeing of Sri Lankan Tamils, including IDPs, and to assist in the development of Northern Sri Lanka.

I am happy to convey to the House that according to information available to us around 2,90,000 IDPs have already been resettled and leaving only around 10,000 IDPs remaining in the camps.

Some Members have raised the issue of the Report of the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka. India has taken note of the Report. We have heard the views of the Sri Lankan Government, including during the visit of their External Affairs Minister to New Delhi in May 2011 and during the meeting of the TROIKA in Colombo in June 2011.

It may be recalled that the Panel was set up by the UN Secretary General with the objective of advising him on developments in Sri Lanka in the last stages of the conflict. In general, there are still questions on the Report, and the issue has not so far come up for discussion in the formal agenda of any of the relevant UN intergovernmental bodies.

To the extent that concerns have been expressed by various quarters on the UNSG’s Panel Report or the Channel 4 documentary, it is for the Sri Lankan Government, in the first instance to investigate and inquire into them and establish their veracity or otherwise through a transparent process. We note that it is also doing so through its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

The Government of India has and will continue to reiterate to the Government of Sri Lanka the urgent and imperative need for expeditious steps towards genuine national reconciliation, including early return of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to their respective homes, early withdrawal of emergency regulations, investigations into allegation of human rights violations, restoration of normalcy in affected areas, reduction of ‘high security zones’, accountability for the list of missing persons and redress humanitarian concerns of affected families.

Some Members have also raised questions on the safety and protection of civilians during the conflict. I wish to emphatically state that during the conflict, particularly its last phase, Government of India repeatedly called upon the Government of Sri Lanka to be mindful of the welfare and safety of civilians caught in the crossfire and consistently emphasised that the rights and the welfare of the Tamil community of Sri Lanka should not get enmeshed in the on-going hostilities.

Members have also referred to a media interview by the Defence Secretary of Sri Lanka. We have noted that some specific comments were made about a Chief Minister, which are without justification, and we reject them.

On the concerns expressed by some Members on the issue of Indian fishermen in waters between India and Sri Lanka, allow me to reiterate, at the outset, that the welfare, safety and security of our fishermen have always received the highest priority by Government.

There have been reports of incidents of attacks on Indian fishermen, allegedly by the Sri Lankan Navy. Government of India, through Diplomatic Channels, has consistently and immediately taken up any reported incident involving arrest or violence against Indian fishermen to ensure their safety, security, early release and repatriation.

Government has conveyed to the Sri Lankan Government that the use of force could not be justified under any circumstance and that all fishermen should be treated in a humane manner. The Sri Lankan side, while denying that their Navy was involved, has promised to seriously investigate these incidents.

During the meetings with my Sri Lankan counterpart in February 2011 in Thimpu and in May 2011 in New Delhi, I not only conveyed our deep concern at the violence against our fishermen but also stressed the need to ensure that these incidents do not recur. In the Joint Press Release issued in May 2011, India and Sri Lanka agreed that the use of force could not be justified under any circumstances and that all fishermen should be treated in a humane manner.

I would like to inform this august House that almost all instances of arrest and harassment of our fishermen seem to have occurred in Sri Lankan waters, when our fishermen stray across the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL).

23. There were six cases of Indian fishermen who died during 2011. We learnt about the death of Shri Pandiyan on 12th January 2011 and that of Shri Jayakumar on 23rd January 2011. Four other fishermen from Tamil Nadu were reported missing on 5th April 2011, and their bodies were found subsequently. In all these cases, the High Commission of India in Colombo took up the matter on the same day of receipt of information about the death of Indian fishermen.

It is very important to note here that, following the India-Sri Lanka Joint Statement on Fishing Arrangements of 26th October 2008, the incidents involving Indian fishermen declined significantly.

Year Number of Indian fishermen
Arrested and released subsequently Reported Missing Reported dead
2008 1456 1 5
2009 127 NIL NIL
2010 34 NIL 1
2011(till August 16th) 164 NIL 6

As per information available, as of now there are no Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan jails on charges of fishing related violations.
At the same time, in 2010 a total of 352, and in 2011, till 16th August 2011, 131 Sri Lankan fishermen were apprehended by our authorities. A total of 104 Sri Lankan fishermen are still in Indian custody.

We have been encouraged by the existence of the structured dialogue mechanism between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). We were concerned with the recent breakdown and the resulting stalemate and we encourage both parties to the dialogue to resume purposeful discussions towards a genuine political settlement.

The Government of India is of the view that the end of conflict in Sri Lanka provided an opportunity to pursue a lasting political settlement in Sri Lanka within the framework of a united Sri Lanka, acceptable to all the communities in Sri Lanka including the Tamils. It has to be, however, kept in mind this is a long standing issue and Sri Lanka is going through its internal processes. The sooner Sri Lanka can come to a political arrangement within which all the communities feel comfortable, and which works for all of them, the better. Government of India will do whatever it can to support this process.

In this context, our emphasis has been to persuade the Sri Lankan Government to move towards a new system of institutional reforms, including a devolution package, building upon the 13th Amendment. The Joint Press Statement issued on May 17 after Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister’s visit to Delhi stated this position. We would continue to impress on the Sri Lankan Government to pursue these institutional reforms, so that Tamil people will have a feeling that they are equal citizens of Sri Lanka and that they can lead a life of dignity and self respect.

We have also noted the President of Sri Lanka's decision announced yesterday to withdraw the state of emergency when it lapses at the end of this month. This, in our view, is a welcome step. We hope that this will be followed by effective steps leading to genuine national reconciliation in the country.

Hon’ble Members also referred to fishing rights for Indian fishermen at Kachchativu Island. I wish to bring to the attention of the august House that our fishermen have access to visit the Island for rest, for drying of nets and for the annual St. Anthony’s Festival, and that the rights do not cover fishing around Kachchativu Island.

We will have to also bear in mind the fact that as per the Agreements we have concluded with Sri Lanka in 1974 and 1976, Kachchativu Island lies on the Sri Lankan side of the Maritime boundary. These Agreements were laid before the Parliament. Therefore, as far as the Government of India is concerned, the issue of Maritime boundary between India and Sri Lanka, and consequently, that of sovereignty over Kachchativu Island is a settled matter.

In October 2009, a delegation of Members of Parliament from Tamil Nadu visited Sri Lanka, including the camps where the Internally Displaced Persons were staying. In their report they had mentioned that the facilities at the camps were reasonable.

During his recent meeting with Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in Chennai, Sri Lankan High Commissioner to New Delhi has conveyed the invitation of President of Sri Lanka to Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu to visit Sri Lanka. He has also invited a Parliamentary team, not only from Tamil Nadu but also from other areas to visit Sri Lanka, including Northern Sri Lanka.

Hon’ble Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Smt Sushma Swaraj has been invited by the Hon’ble Speaker of Sri Lankan Parliament to visit Sri Lanka. Smt. Sushma Swaraj has accepted the invitation. She is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka from 16-20 September 2011.

I also welcome the suggestion made by the Hon’ble Members regarding the visit of a joint Parliamentary delegation to Sri Lanka to get first hand information on various developments there. We would work out a suitable time frame for the visit in consultation with the Sri Lankan Government.

Thank you.

New Delhi
August 26, 2011

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