Katchatheevu should be brought back under Indian control in order to ensure safe fishing by Indians!

Katchatheevu should be brought back under Indian control in order to ensure safe fishing by Indians!

-Dr. Abdul Ruff


(Lankan state murders and attacks on Indian fishermen over fishing rights!)

Katchatheevu, an uninhabited small islet in the Palk Strait, is the centre of a long-standing dispute between the fishermen of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. The island originated from a volcanic eruption that occurred in the 14th century. In 1974 India recognized Sri Lankan ownership of the island on a conditional agreement.

Katchatheevu was formed due to volcanic eruption in the 14th century. The 285-acre land, strategically important for fishing activities, was owned by the Raja of Ramnad (Ramanathapuram) and later became part of the Madras Presidency after the delimitation of Gulf of Mannar and Palk Strait during British rule between the then governments of Madras and Ceylon. In 1921, both Sri Lanka and India claimed this piece of land for fishing and the dispute remained unsettled.
The island is also important for fishing grounds used by fishers from both countries. The island has a Catholic shrine that attracts devotees from both countries. Ownership of the island was controversial up until 1974 as during British Rule the island was administered by both countries. In order to improve relations with its Southern neighbor, India recognized Sri Lankan ownership but parliament refused to endorse the decision.

In 1921 a Conference was held in Colombo. A delegation of four officials came to Colombo from the then Government of the Presidency of Madras, headed by C.W.E. Cotton. There were also four officials from Sri Lanka, headed by B. Horsburgh. The Conference went on from March to October 1921. The sovereignty over Kachchativu was claimed by both the countries, placing several documents in support of each one’s claim. No argument was conclusive.

In 1974, Katchatheevu was ceded to Sri Lanka by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi through the Indo-Sri Lankan Maritime agreement to settle the maritime boundary in the Palk Strait with her counterpart Srimavo Bandaranaike. This forced M. Karunanidhi, then chief minister of Tamil Nadu, to write to Indira Gandhi on how the land was historically a part of Ramnad’s zamindari. The Indo-Sri Lankan agreement allows Indian fishermen to fish around Katchatheevu and to dry their nets on the island. But Sri Lanka reigme violates that agreement and challenges Indian links to Katchatheevu. As part of the Sri Lankan civil war, this arrangement led to many difficulties with the Sri Lankan Navy that is deployed to prevent smuggling of weapons by the rebel group LTTE.

Katchatheevu was ceded to Sri Lanka in violation of the court under the 1974 and 1976 agreements without the approval of two Houses of Parliament. The legality of the transfer was challenged in the Indian Supreme Court since the recognizing was not ratified by the Indian parliament. This unnecessary recognition of an island that is culturally important to fishermen of Tamil Nadu state in India has led to some agitations by Tamil Nadu people and politicians that it should be claimed to Indian sovereignty. The main problem continues to grow as more fisherman move into the Sri Lankan sea area for fishing work which Sri Lanka calls as illegal poaching. In 2010 the Sri Lankan government issued a notice to the Tamil Nadu government saying the Indian Supreme Court cannot nullify the 1974 agreement and Katchatheevu now belongs to them and Indians are not allowed to fish there.  .

In June 2011 the new Tamil Nadu government led by Jayalalithaa filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking the declaration of the 1974 and 1976 agreements between India and Sri Lanka on ceding of Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka as unconstitutional. The court ruled in the Berubari case that the cession of Indian Territory to another country had to be ratified by parliament through amendment of the Constitution. However, the Indian government objecting to the Tamil nadu government’s arguments, has stated that “No territory belonging to India was ceded nor sovereignty relinquished since the area was in dispute and had never been demarcated” and that the dispute on the status of the island was settled in 1974 by an agreement and both countries took into account historical evidence and legal aspects.

During her meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June 2016, Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa pushed for the retrieval of Katchatheevu, the centre of a long-standing dispute between the fishermen of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. On 26 August 2014, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, representing the Centre, told a Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha: “If you want Katchatheevu back, you will have to go to war to get it back.”
Originally, Katchatheevu belongs to India but given out to its sea neighbor Sri Lanka for invalid and rather fake reasons.
Just demanding empty justice for Lankan murder and other state atrocities on Tamils is not good for Tamil Nadu. Murders would continuance if Indian government still maintains silence.

This island acting as a naval station can further provide good maritime security to both our fishermen as well as any merchant ship using this route.

St.Anthony’s Catholic Shrine

St. Antony’s shrine on Kachchatheevu is one of a kind which shares the borders of both countries India and Sri Lanka, and declared holy place by both Governments. There stands the only religious structure, St. Antony’s Catholic Shrine which holds 100+ year old traditions, and was built by an Indian Catholic (Tamilian) called Srinivasa Padaiyachi. there is not a drop of drinking water on the island, and the only structure is a beautiful church named after St. Antony, patron-saint of seafarers, to whom the feast is dedicated. It was put up by a prosperous fisherman in the early 20th century. No one is required to possess an Indian passport or Sri Lankan visa for visiting Kachchatheevu. The church festival runs for three days. The priests from both India and Sri Lanka conduct the mass and car procession. As many as 35 country boats and 106 mechanized boats ferry the pilgrims, mostly from Rameswaram.

Every February, thousands of devotees from Rameshwaram visit the 110-year-old St Anthony’s Church on Katchatheevu island built by a Tamil Catholic from Tamil Nadu, Srinivasa Padaiyachi. Last month, reports claimed that the church was going to be demolished by the Sri Lankan government, but it was clarified later by the external affairs ministry spokesperson, Vikas Swarup, that nothing of the sort would happen. “It has been reported that the existing church will be retained unchanged and the second shrine is proposed to be constructed by a Sri Lankan approximately 100 metres away from the present shrine,” he said, adding that the Sri Lankan navy has also dismissed media reports that it was planning a naval facility at Katchatheevu.
Indian rights

Katchatheevu originally belonged to kings of Ramanathapuram. No maps of Sri Lanka showed it as its territory. However, seeing it’s strategic location, Sri Lanka started claiming it. The issue was discussed some times during the meeting between Indian and Sri Lankan leaders. However suddenly in 1974 Indira Gandhi has signed an agreement whereby Katchatheevu was given to Sri Lanka. Many reasons may be attributed. But the most important reason for this settlement is below.
After operation Smiling Buddha on may 1974, India was under enormous pressure from International Communities. India desperately needed support and Sri Lanka offered the help. Sri Lanka was to host Non Aligned Movement summit for the year 1976 and it was also likely that president of United Nations general Assembly to be from Sri Lanka. Hence Indira Gandhi hurriedly got in to an agreement with Sri Lanka, whereby she ceded Kachatheevu to Sri Lanka in 7th July, 1974 without hearing Tamil Nadu or without discussing it in parliament.

Katchatheevu has been the place where the Indian fishermen have been doing their labor all through several decades even before independence. India however has outlined its stance on strategically important Katchatheevu clearly, stating that it is the territory of the island nation. The peninsular nation now deeply regrets the decision and is little concerned about the growing security threats Ceylon could pose in case the island nation decide to build a base in Katchatheevu. 256 acres of land is big enough to build a watch center overlooking the second populous nation in the world.
Though ceded to Sri Lanka, the agreement, which did not specify fishing rights, allowed Indian fishermen to fish around Katchatheevu and to dry their nets on the island. During Emergency, with the Tamil Nadu government dismissed in 1976, without the consultation of the state assembly and Parliament, another agreement was finalized to determine the boundary in the Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal and restricted both the countries’ fishermen from fishing in the other’s waters. “With the establishment of the Exclusive Economic Zones by the two countries, India and Sri Lanka will exercise sovereign rights over the living and non-living resources of their respective zones. The fishing vessels and fishermen of India shall not engage in fishing in the historic waters, the territorial sea and the Exclusive Economic Zone of Sri Lanka, nor shall the fishing vessels and fishermen of Sri Lanka engage in fishing in the historic waters, the territorial sea and the Exclusive Economic Zone of India, without the express permission of Sri Lanka or India, as the case may be,” said the agreement.

In 1991, the Tamil Nadu Assembly adopted a resolution demanding the retrieval of Katchatheevu. During the civil war and with northern borders under the control of the LTTE (expand), the fishermen had easy access into the fishing grounds. Later in 2008, Jayalalithaa moved the Supreme Court to nullify the Katchatheevu agreements of 1974 and 1976.

As the war between Sri Lankan government and LTTE reached an end by 2009, the Sri Lankan government strengthened its security at maritime boundaries with Indian help, thereby India seeking to delink Sri Lanka form Pakistani influence. When Indian fishermen crossed boundaries, arrests followed and talks for retrieval of Katchatheevu followed suit in Tamil Nadu. The Sri Lankan government claims that depletion of marine resources on its waters has affected the livelihood of its own fishermen.
When the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement was signed on the Katchatheevu islands in 1974 in the interest of “good neighborly relations”, the then External Affairs Minister, Swaran Singh, had said that Indian fishing and navigation rights had been safeguarded for the future. Under the agreement on the island, which falls in the Sri Lankan territory, Indian fishermen can rest and dry their nets during fishing in international waters. But in recent times, SL Coast Guards have fired and killed a few of our Tamil Fisherman. It has robbed the local fishermen of rich fishing grounds and affected their livelihood.

The 1974 and 1976 agreements between Sri Lanka and India are milestones in dealing with the issue. The Katchatheevu islet is a sovereign property of Sri Lanka ceded to SL by the 1974 and 1976 agreements between the two countries and the agreements do not confer any fishing rights on fishermen from India.  Under the treaty agreement of 1974, Indian fishermen have lost the rights to fishing around the island as it is within the territorial waters of Sri Lanka and the 1976 agreement has established the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL), which the fishermen in the two countries are not allowed to cross into each other’s territory.  Under the agreements of 1974 and 1976, Indian fishermen and pilgrims will enjoy access to Katchatheevu and will not be required by Sri Lanka to obtain travel documents or visas for these purposes. Fishermen could rest, dry their nets and attend the annual St Antony’s festival in Katchatheevu.

In 2014 Indian government informed the Madras high court responding to a PIL that Sri Lanka’s sovereignty over Katchatheevu is a settled matter and fishermen from India do not enjoy any right to engage in fishing activities in the region. In 2015, Sri Lanka’s prime minister Ranil Wickramasinghe stoked a controversy in an interview for Chennai-based Tamil Channel (Thanthi TV), suggesting that Indian fishermen may be shot if they intrude into Sri Lankan waters. “Why are you coming into our waters? Why are you fishing in our waters…? Stay on the Indian side… There will be no issue… No one will shoot anyone else… You stay on the Indian side, let our fishermen stay on the Sri Lankan side… Otherwise don’t make accusations of Human rights violation by the Navy. You came in there.”

As per international law, a country’s maritime border will be 12 nautical miles from the last spot, which means benefit not only in terms of military but also with respect to commerce. Fishing for eg 12 nautical miles from this spot falls under the high seas and this radius is abundant with various fish varieties. It is simply because of this reason that fishermen from India risk their lives and dignity to cross over to Katchatheevu.

Katchatheevu is a Big Deal, because we will rub Srilanka in wrong way and China can always step in
Because of the greedy fishermen from India, who are hell bent on crossing international borders to catch fish.
Why do they catch fish from Srilankan waters, and not within Indian borders… they have caught and depleted the fish population here..
And many good quality fishes are exported to foreign countries and not sold for local consumption. Now this fishermen community is a huge vote bank, and hence Katchatheevu was made into a big deal.

This settlement agreement is invalid since it is not passed or ratified by parliament. No one is discussing the validity of this agreement and Union Government now maintains it to be a settled issue even in courts, whereas as a result of this agreement, fishermen are facing issues daily. Present Sri Lankan Prime Minister has said that Indian fishermen could be shot if they intruded in Sri Lankan waters and on 23.07.2016 a Sri Lankan minister has said it is easier to shoot the fishermen rather than arresting them. These are not simple issues. Can we shoot a fisherman from Pakistan or Bangladesh who have intruded in to Indian shores? Are we not after two Italian marines who shot two Indian fishermen? We even arrest terrorists who enter with sinister designs and put them under trail. We do not shoot if Sri Lankan fishermen enter Indian waters. Sri Lanka is said to a friendly country. What kind of friendship this is some strategists have to explain. Playing China or Pakistan card is not a healthy argument. India aspires to be a world power. For the short sighted benefits, Tamils have been left in a perennial hostile environment and the settlement of Island is a great strategic loss to India which will be learnt in long term.

Is India scared of Sri Lanka?
Katchatheevu is a piece of land in between TN and Sri Lanka. There was no clear ownership during British rule and during independence it was given to India. The reason is TN fisherman’s were using that land for fishing related works, taking rest and drying their nets , Also due to geographical reason that area has good quantity of fishes.

Now after independence, any nation will not like to have a small piece of land which belongs to other country. Assume if Lakshadweep Island belongs to Pakistan by now they would have turned it into a military fort target south India.  To bring peace and give confidant to Sri Lanka in 1974 border was redefined and the land was given to Sri Lanka (under – India Sri Lanka Maritime boundary line ) with following condition. Article 5. Subject to the foregoing, Indian fishermen and pilgrims will enjoy access to visit Kachchativu as hitherto, and will not be required by Sri Lanka to
obtain travel documents or visas for these purposes; Article 6. The vessels of Sri Lanka and India will enjoy in each other’s waters
such rights as they have traditionally enjoyed therein.

India is not scared of Sri Lanka. India and Sri Lanka fall in the same geopolitical area i.e., in the Indian sub-continent. So India being a regional power would like to keep its neighbors as friendly as possible for obvious reasons (Trade, economic boosts, ease of military surveillance, etc). We all know about the String of pearls strategy. In short, it is a military and economic strategy of surrounding our country from the Indian Ocean side by making alliances and establishing military bases with countries Sri Lanka, Maldives, Sychellies, Bangladesh, etc. Therefore completely surrounding the Indian mainland and thus if war breaks out then that country can threaten India with greater extend with the help of these military bases. Now coming back to Sri Lanka, the close proximity of island nation with the Indian mainland gives a very big advantage to countries like China, Pakistan in times of war with India. So yea India is greatly concerned about this and not scared of Sri Lanka.

Maybe, India does not have any expansionism plans (other than in Jammu Kashmir) so, compared to most countries they are very peaceful. If we consider the rivalry among the countries, yep it used to be there. Now India is more focused on developing each other for economic benefits.
Sri Lanka would rather focus on developing a strong small nation by remaining independent rather than just be another part of India.
The economies can be bound under free trade agreements and free movement of people like the EU. No need for national integration with India.

Soverign countries don’t just join others. India was forged and split by its independence movement. Is Norway jealous of the US? Does Switzerland want to be part of Germany? India and Sri Lanka are very different countries. They speak different languages, have different food, have different world views, different political alliances and different histories. You could ask why doesn’t Alaska secede from the Unites States and merge with Russia.

Sri Lanka is separate nation. It almost always was a separate nation except few dynasties. Although Sri Lanka and rest of India share a common cultural thread, being separate from mainland, Sri Lanka always developed as a separate sub culture within Greater Indian culture. One can be hyperbolic for emphasis-not sarcastic regarding both India and Sri Lanka. Countries often split apart but rarely do they merge. Also I don’t think Sri Lanka has to merge into India to get benefits. Sri Lanka is doing well on its own. Relationships between Sri Lanka and India are improving after election of the New president and PM. India has never claimed Sri Lanka as part of its own nation.
Sri Lanka would not be more or less peaceful by merging with India or not merging. Tamil v Sinhalese is an internal problem of Sri Lanka. It can only be solved by Sri Lankans. India and neighbouring countries are working on developing a common market through various trade agreements. So in future, we may see Sri Lanka and India both getting benefits of each other’s strengths without really merging together.


If India annexes Katchatheevu?

Sri Lanka would readily ask for Pakistan’s and China’s help. China would swiftly start a diplomatic campaign to isolate India in the world community and pass a Security Council resolution against her. International sanctions would come in a jiffy strangling India’s economy and military purchases.

Pakistan would supply Srilanka with all kinds of logistical & military support that it can and may even engage India from the back side and try and occupy Indian Occupied Kashmir while the Indian army is busy in Sri Lanka. Booting India out of Siachen would be Pakistan’s top priority as well. It goes without saying that Pakistan would have China’s 100% support as well.

India would be in trouble if Pakistan decides to enter the war. USA would exploit the situation to demand more money.
Sri Lanka has existed as a distinct kingdom since time immemorial – and was never a long term part of any Indian Empire (except perhaps northern Sri Lanka under the Chola Empire). It is a well defined, separate kingdom even in the ancient Indian epic – the Ramayana. Moreover, India is not a rogue or aggressive state – it is seen as a responsible power. The other annexations of Goa and Hyderabad were of historically integral parts of the Indian nation which had fallen into foreign or anti-Indian control – they should not be seen as expansionist acts of aggression. An attempt to annex Sri Lanka would in fact lead to a lot of ill-will and disastrous consequences for India – creating a hostile neighbour and a playground for its enemies to its South for no good reason. The cultural and economic links between the two nations are also extremely strong – so if you are looking for a justification with .respect to creating a larger market/economy or something along those lines, a high level of economic and cultural integration already exists.
Annexing a country is a part of Indian traditions as it quickly invaded and annexed neighboring Jammu Kashmir in 1947 when it barely got it sown independence from UK and settlement process was still on. In ancient times also, rulers conquered kingdoms and let the kings of those kingdoms to rule as their vassals.

During LTTE war many weapons, food materials and money were moved to support them from Indian side, as per Sri Lankan view Indians were supporting LTTE, so they have started killing Tamils and fishermen. There are also news, drug trafficking is also happening in that area, so the issue is really complicated. There is a rumor that DMK MP Balu is major owner of all fishing boats and he forces all people to go fishing for rents.

A Sri Lankan war ship can even threaten TN, but a Indian war ship will be seen as threat to entire Sri Lanka (china will motivate Sri Lanka to think so). Any sign of Indian aggression will be seen as a threat and China will to help Sri Lanka and we will have problem in South India also. So considering all issues below are the only solution: 1. Indian government could arrange cheap funds for all TN fishermen; and train them on deep water fishing; 2. Deep Water fishing means deep inside Bay of Bengal (In International waters); 3. Train then on safety and dedicated Navy/air force help; 4. New gadgets to ensure safety in fishing and communication, and 5 Tight security in Indian maritime border to stop Sri Lankan vessels entering Indian Border.
No need to believe rumors that India fears Sri Lanka or not helping TN.


The 1974 agreement are not valid as Indian parliament and Tamil Nadu have not approved it. Aiming at Hindutva raj through Rajya Sabha, the Modi government, like the previous Sonia-Manmohan Congress government, has not been serious about solving the crisis on sea as Lankan military continues to attack Indian fishermen on sea who fishing in their traditional zones near Katchatheevu. Of late Lankan Navy harassment of Indian fishermen has been increasing with the murder of an Indian fisherman, causing commotion and agitation by Tamils demanding justice. Yet, India government led by Modi has found time to open his mouth to say soothing words to the affected Tamils. Indian government seems to hate Tamil fishermen whom it harassed, attacked and mercilessly killed for not supporting its nuke program in Kudankulam village in Tinelveli District.

Imagine you owning a huge villa, in it you have a room which is almost unused. One day all of a sudden you decide to give that land off to your neighbors as that land would be more helpful for them than for you. But after a couple of years, after your death your son’s peace of mind is wrecked by the same neighbors you had pity on. Then your son would obviously find a way to get it back from the neighbors. Now put India at your place, Tamil Nadu at your son’s place and Sri Lanka at your neighbors place. India gave that piece of land called Katchatheevu to Ceylon, because it valued trust and friendship between the both nations. But Ceylon has betrayed India and become friends with China us in return with bullet shots and arrests of poor fisherman from the coast where Dr. Abdul Kalam was born. Indian fishermen still travel to Katchatheevu yearly for the church function in that island but that is the only time they do so.

Sri Lanka asks India to charge TN leaders who encourage fishermen to risk their lives, rather than pushing Sri Lankan authorities to abrogate their duty by their nation, just to please the Tamilnadu trouble makers. Colombo says India should not get back the Katchatheevu land once given to Lankan control considering a Friendly relationship with Sri Lanka. But Lanka reserves the right to attack and kill Indian fishermen if they come and fish in their traditional zones.  They advise that with the relations between the two nations hanging on the balance, India would certainly keep a close eye on it so that it doesn’t need to regret more.

Military wise, Indian Navy has additional perimeter to cover and can develop this island as an observatory post to keep watch on the Chinese movements along our coast, given the recent close relationships between SL and China, it becomes imperative. Moreover, it was part of India, until the great Indira Gandhi ceded it SL & it makes a not so favorable precedence for India. It is like if India is pestered enough it will cede any part to a neighbor for maintaining good “strategic” relationship.
Now that the damage is already done, it is next to impossible to reverse it. What has gone is gone. Like the Ram structure issue in the north by destroying a historic Babri Mosque, this island has become a political issue with which all the parties are playing well to keep their business going well.

Unification of Lankan Elam and Tamil nadu into a new Tamil nation is now irrelevant. Katchatheevu was a vote attracting spell for the Tamil politicians for years, a distant wish of a Tamil fisherman and a cat & mouse game between the two nations. Unless Katchatheevu returns to India, fishing problem cannot be solved. Time, therefore, is fast running out for Indian government to act and take possession of Katchatheevu and for Tamil Nadu to insist on annexing Katchatheevu. Sri Lanka continues its perpetual crimes thinking Indian government would not object to that and even support Lankan torture and murder of Tamils. Katchatheevu should be under Indian control to solve the Tamil Nadu fishing crisis once for all!