Chennai: Tamil Nadu government on Wednesday said that due to its consistent efforts Sri Lanka had released over 500 fishermen arrested by its navy since May, 2011 and reaffirmed that retrieval of `katchatheevu,` an islet ceded by India to the neighbouring nation in 1974, was its "topmost agenda."
Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa had written 17 letters to the Centre on the issue of arrests of Indian fishermen by Sri Lankan Navy who also allegedly attacked them.
"Due to the consistent effots taken by the government, 505 fishermen arested since May 2011 (217 that year, 219 in 2012 and 69 till date in 2013) have been released by the Sri Lankan authorities and repatriated to Tamil Nadu," state Fisheries Minister K A Jayapal told the state Assembly.
He assured the House of action for release of the "remaining innocent" fishermen lodged in Sri Lankan jails but did not specify the exact number.
Jayapal said the fishermen from the districts off Palk Bay in the state who `drift` to the other side of International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) while fishing in Palk Strait were at times "arrested/harassed by the Sri Lankan navy."
Taking a "serious view," of this, Jayalalithaa had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh 17 times since May 2011, nine letters seeking steps for release of arrested fishermen and the rest asking him to take "urgent steps" to prevent the mid-sea incidents of `harassment`.
Jayapal reiterated the government`s commitment on retrieval of Katchatheevu as that and restoration of traditional fishing rights of Indian fishermen in the Palk Bay area "are the topmost agenda of the government of Tamil Nadu."
The islet was ceded to Sri Lanka "unilaterally," he said adding government was taking pro-active steps such as state Revenue Department impleading in a case filed by Jayalalithaa in the Supreme Court in 2008 against the Indo-Lanka agreement.
The government had also filed an `Expedite petition` in the apex Court last year, he added.