The right to information (RTI) reply shows how the Indian Government ceded the Katchatheevu island to Sri Lanka in 1974.

More on news 

  • The reply to an RTI filed by the current Tamil Nadu BJP president indicates that the then government (1974) never attached much importance to the tiny, uninhabited Katchatheevu Island.

History of Katchatheevu Island

  • In the early medieval period, it was controlled by the Jaffna kingdom of Sri Lanka. In the 17th century, control passed to the Ramnad kingdom based out of Ramanathapuram, about 55 km northwest of Rameswaram.
  • In 1961, Pandit Nehru said he would not hesitate in giving up claims to Katchatheevu
  • Despite attorney general M C Setalvad opening in 1960 that despite contradicting claims, India’s case was stronger than Sri Lanka’s
  • The zamindari rights for maintaining Katchatheevu and its fisheries were given to the Raja of Ramnad by the British East India Company. This continued from 1875 to 1948 and was vested in the State of Madras following the abolition of zamindari rights (1951).
  • Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, pressed its claim right after Independence when it said the Indian Navy then Royal Indian Navy could not conduct exercises on the island without its permission. In Oct 1955, the Ceylon Air Force held its exercise on the island.

Indo-Sri Lankan Maritime Agreement

  • In 1974 as a part of this settlement, the Government ‘ceded’ Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka. Though it allowed Indian fishermen to access the island
  • Sri Lanka interpreted Indian fishermen’s right to access Katchatheevu to be limited to “rest, drying nets and for visit to the Catholic shrine without a visa”.

Where is Katchatheevu Island?

  • Katchatheevu is a 285-acre uninhabited speck (a tiny spot) in the Palk Strait, between India and Sri Lanka. It is no more than 1.6 km in length and slightly over 300 m wide at its broadest point.
  • The only structure on the island is an early 20th-century Catholic shrine – St Anthony’s church.
  • Katchatheevu is not suited for permanent settlement as there is no source of drinking water on the island. 

India’s Position

  • Katchatheevu was “given away” to Sri Lanka without consulting the Tamil Nadu state assembly.
  • In 2008, then AIADMK supremo, the late J Jayalalitha, filed a petition in court saying Katchatheevu could not be ceded to another country without a constitutional amendment.
  • Later in 2011 she moved a resolution in the State Assembly and, in 2012, went to the Supreme Court asking her petition be expedited in the wake of increasing arrests of Indian fishermen by Sri Lanka.
  • The Union government’s position on Katchatheevu has largely remained unchanged. It has argued that since the island had always been under dispute, “no territory belonging to India was ceded nor sovereignty relinquished.”

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