Union Minister of State (MoS) for External Affairs V Muraleedharan on Thursday said that the government gave the highest priority for the security of Indian fishermen and all assistance is being provided for their early release from Pakistani custody.

In response to the questions in Rajya Sabha about the arrested Indian fishermen, Mr Muraleedharan said, “All possible assistance, including legal assistance, is extended to the fishermen for their early release and repatriation, along with the release of their boats. He further stated that as soon as the cases of apprehension of Indian fishermen and their fishing boats by Pakistan are reported, immediate steps are taken by the Indian Mission in Islamabad towards seeking consular access from the Pakistan Government.

As per Mr Muraleedharan, 546 Indian fishermen under Pakistani custody are from the state of Gujarat. “It has been reported that Indian fishermen along with their boats are apprehended by Pakistani authorities for allegedly fishing in Pakistani waters and charged under the Fisheries Act of Pakistan,” MoS Muraleedharan added.

He said that the cases of apprehension of Indian fishermen and their fishing boats by Pakistan authorities are consistently raised with the Pakistan Government and it is conveyed that this issue may be considered on humanitarian and livelihood grounds.

“As a result of sustained efforts by the Government, 2,160 Indian fishermen and 57 Indian fishing boats have been repatriated from Pakistan since 2014. This includes 40 Indian fishermen who have been repatriated from Pakistan this year, so far,” he added.

Earlier, as many as 20 Indian fishermen were released by the Pakistan government, on June 20, through the Attari Wagah border as a goodwill gesture. Meanwhile, in another response to Rajya Sabha, the Minister said that there has not been any progress between India and Pakistan since 2019 regarding the resumption of trade.

In August 2019, relations between India and Pakistan worsened when Pakistan decided to downgrade diplomatic ties with India, recall its high commissioner from New Delhi, expel the Indian envoy to Islamabad and suspend bilateral trade. Being asked whether there has been any progress concerning the resumption of trade ties with Pakistan since the year 2019, the Minister in his written response to Rajya Sabha in his written response in Rajya Sabha said: “In August 2019, Pakistan announced the suspension of bilateral trade with India. Pakistan partially relaxed its ban on trade with India in September 2019 by permitting trade in certain pharmaceutical products. There has not been any progress regarding resumption of trade with Pakistan since then.”

In June, Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari emphasized the country’s interest in trade and engagement with India saying that Pakistan was isolated on the world stage due to past policies. India revoked Article 370 to withdraw the special status to Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated the state into two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.