|They fished in Sri Lankan waters off Rameswaram|
CHENNAI: The Madras High Court has set aside a Fisheries department order imposing fine on 77 fishermen who, breaching the international boundary line (IBL), fished in Sri Lankan waters off Rameswaram.
A Division Bench comprising Justices P. Sathasivam and N. Paul Vasanthakumar passed the order on a writ appeal preferred by the Rameswaram Port Visai Padagu Meenavar (mechanised fishing trawlers) Sangam against a single-judge order rejecting their plea.
As per Section 5 of the Tamil Nadu Marine Fishing Regulation Act 1983, the department is empowered to regulate, restrict or prohibit fishing in waters up to 12 nautical miles of the coast.
In July 1993, the Government introduced a penalty regime for fishermen who crossed the IBL.
After representations that they tended to stray beyond the IBL due to various genuine reasons, the Government modified the rules and issued an order in July 2000, which did not stipulate penalty for unintentional crossing of IBL. However, fishermen found carrying contraband goods or refugees or engaged in illegal activities were fined.
The Sangam said the 77 fishermen crossed the IBL unintentionally.
They were not issued a show-cause notice by authorities before imposing the penalty. Denial of fishing permit would deprive them of their livelihood. The Deputy Director had unjustly rejected their appeal, despite being vested with powers.
In its counter, the Government said fishermen regularly violated the regulatory provisions and fished in and around the Katchatheevu area, ignoring warnings.
The Government of Sri Lanka too had taken up the issue, as it threatened their coastal security. The fishermen risked being fire at by the Sri Lankan Navy.
The Bench pointed out that the impugned order had been passed without any application of mind.
The Deputy Director of Fisheries, the designated authority under the Act, had committed a statutory violation when he rejected the fishermen's plea. No notice was issued and the inquiry was not conducted properly.
© Copyright 2000 - 2006 The Hindu