There is no certainty about the circumstances that led to the killing of a Tamil Nadu fisherman somewhere between the Indian and Sri Lankan coast on Monday night. Unmistakably though, this was a tragedy waiting to happen, the direct fallout of the long-standing dispute between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen over fishing rights in the Palk Bay.

While the Sri Lankan Navy denies it had a hand in the killing, the shooting exposes the lack of progress in the implementation of the agreement between the two countries on preventing loss of life while managing the fishing dispute through official channels.

What was the agreement?
Last year, the two countries agreed on establishing a Joint Working Group (JWG) on fisheries to help resolve the dispute.

A hotline between the Coast Guards of India and Sri Lanka, convening of the JWG once in three months, and meetings of the fisheries ministers every half-year were the components of the mechanism to be put in place.

Response of Sri Lankan authorities
Although instances of Indian fishermen crossing into Sri Lankan waters have always been commonplace, the consequences for such transgressions in recent years have been limited to seizure of boats and prolonged detention.