West Bengal unaware of new maritime border

The Mamata Banerjee government has been caught unawares by the new eastern maritime border that was re-drawn by a UN tribunal in July. The cost of this ignorance: 132 fishermen in 10 trawlers languishing in Bangladeshi jail for straying into its waters.

MamataAround 19,000 sq km of exclusive economic maritime zone where Indian fishermen would cast their nets was handed to Bangladesh nearly five months ago following a five-year arbitration.

“We continued fishing in the area as usual but trawlers began to be seized by Bangladeshi authorities now and then. When the tenth trawler was seized a few days ago, we approached the South 24-Parganas district magistrate,” said Satinath Patra, secretary of Sundarban Samudrik Matsajibi Shramik Union.

The DM contacted the fisheries department but learned precious little as it had no clue as to why Indian trawlers were being seized from Indian waters. It was only on prodding from the DM that the fisheries department learned what was wrong. It had not notified the re-alignment of the international maritime border or carried out any awareness drive among fishermen.

A South 24-Parganas official tried to pass the buck on to the Centre, arguing that Delhi had never notified the state government about the realignment of international waters in the Bay of Bengal. Yet, it was the district administration that had facilitated the survey of the maritime border during the arbitration at The Hague.

Fisheries principal secretary Syed Ahmed Baba refused comment and directed the question to the fisheries director. The latter could not be reached as he was travelling. Additional director, fisheries, Sumitra Mitra Deb said she needed a little time to verify the facts but failed to do so till the end of the day, several hours after the query was put to her.

While the fisheries department and the district administration try to pass the buck, families of the 132 fishermen in Bagherhat jail in Khulna division are spending sleepless nights. “It is difficult to get them freed unless our foreign ministry sends a message explaining what had led to the error,” said Kakdwip Matsajibi Unnayan Samity secretary Bijon Maity.

The verdict of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) came in early July after nearly five years of arguments and counter-arguments, spot visit by judges and examination of survey reports. The tribunal verdict is binding on all parties and there is no option for appeal.

The arbitration tribunal on the India-Bangladesh maritime delimitation delivered its ruling on 7th July 2014, ending the 40-year-old dispute. Control of the disputed New Moore Island and concomitant access to Hariabhanga river was a significant gain for India. The verdict was also good news for fishermen of both countries who now have access to a larger area for fishing.

India and Bangladesh have been engaged in long drawn and inconclusive negotiations on the delimitation of their maritime boundary since 1974, and had engaged in eight rounds of bilateral negotiations from 1974 to 2009. In October 2009, Bangladesh served India with notice of arbitration proceedings under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea for delimitation of the Maritime Boundary. Both India and Bangladesh are parties to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

  • Times of India