The Supreme Court on Monday passed restricted interim orders in a batch of interim applications seeking interim stay on the order dated February 17, 2022 passed by the Tamil Nadu Government on banning the use of purse seine nets for fishing. The Court passed an order allowing the purse-seine fishing beyond the territorial waters of Tamil Nadu but within the Exclusive Economic Zone with conditions.
The Bench of Justices AS Bopanna and Hima Kohli read out the conditions as follows:
1. Only registered vessel as on date will be given permission i.e. fishing vessel registered under Section 11 of the Act.
2. Fisheries dept will give permission to such boats only which are installed with approved vessel tracking system.
3. Vessels will be allowed to operate only twice a week i.e. Monday and Thursday of each week.
4. Vessels who are given this permission shall leave coastline on or after 8 AM and shall return positively by 6 PM on the same day.
5. Shall be mandatory to carry ID cards.
After passing the above order, Justice Bopanna remarked that the court was passing these orders after thinking about it and taking the interests of all sides into consideration. He later also said that the order is based on the philosophy of “Jiyo and Jeene do” (Live and Let Live). “We can’t take all contingencies into consideration. This order is to ensure that every body should survive kind of policy. Nothing more than that,” he later added.
It is important to note that the interim applications were filed in a batch of Special Leave Petitions preferred against the judgment and order passed by the Madras High Court upholding the ban imposed by the State of Tamil Nadu and holding that the ban was not illegal or discriminatory.
It may be noted that the High Court in January 2022 had dismissed the pleas preferred by Poompuhar Traditional Fishermen challenging Rule 17(7) of the amended Tamil Nadu Marine Fishing Regulation Rules, 1983 which banned owner or master of any fishing vessel to carry on fishing by pair trawling or fishing with purse-seine net.
The petitioners had submitted before the Supreme Court that the fishing season is only a 3 month season, and the ban has affected around 15 lakhs fishermen in Tamil Nadu.
It was argued in the application that the State’s ban was arbitrary and was contrary to the policy of the Union of India.
The petitioners had further contended that the law had been passed by the State without considering the expert committee and the fishermen and that as a result of this 15 lakh people had lost their job.
The Supreme Court had earlier asked the Tamil Nadu government if a regulation can be brought to allow fishermen to continue purse-seine fishing beyond the 12 nautical miles, outside the zone prohibited by the state government, so that it does not affect their livelihood.
Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan had pointed out two important aspects before the court. He had submitted, “Unless your lordships give interim orders we won’t be able to go and fish and the fishing season starts in a month and a half from now. The other aspect is that the Department of Fisheries, Government of India has not imposed any ban on Purse Seine fishing. It has been submitted by them in their short affidavit. They also say that such fishing has not resulted in any environmental problem. So this can be allowed subject to certain conditions.”
Sankaranarayanan had further submitted that, “beyond 12 nautical miles, there is admittedly no ban. So atleast the fishing season is starting in a month and half and so we should be allowed to carry on the purse-seine fishing beyond 12 nautical miles so that these fishermen can run their livelihood.”
Bench had remarked, “It is only in this state that beyond 12 is not being permitted. Clarify that position to us. At the insertion point itself if you stop them, they will not be able to go even outside 12. What is the mechanism that you see that they don’t fish in this 12 but are allowed to go outside of it to fish.” Senior Advocate A Sirajuddeen, appearing for the petitioner, submitted that the report earlier relied on was 30 years old and now in the year 2022, a new report is there which favours purse fishing. He also argued that the oceanic conditions are different now.