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THE KATCHATHEEVU ISLAND CONTROVERSY

The big question is whether this island was given away callously to Sri Lanka by India?

When did Katchatheevu become part of SL?

In 1974, Indira Gandhi handed over this island through executive resolution to SL on the basis of two conditions:

  • Indian fishermen should be allowed to dry their nets on the island.
  • Permitting Indian fishermen to participate in St. Anthony religious festival.

HISTORY OF THE DISPUTE

SL’s Claim: Sri Lanka claimed sovereignty over Katchatheevu on the ground that the Portuguese who had occupied the island during 1505 -1658 CE had exercised jurisdiction over the islet.

India’s Claim: India’s contention was that the erstwhile Raja of Ramnad [Ramanathapuram] had possession of it as part of his zamin.

Ownership of the island was controversial up until 1974 as during the British rule, the island was administered by both countries. India then recognized equal ownership with Sri Lanka.

The legality of the transfer was challenged in the Indian Supreme Court since the recognizing was not ratified by the Indian Parliament.

THE CENTRE’S STAND

In August 2013, the Union government told the Supreme Court that the question of retrieval of Kachchatheevu from Sri Lanka did not arise as no territory belonging to India was ceded to Sri Lanka.

It contended that the islet was a matter of dispute between British India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and there was no agreed boundary, a matter of which was settled through 1974 and 1976 agreements.

In December 2022, the Centre, pointed out in its reply in the Rajya Sabha that Katchatheevu “lies on the Sri Lankan side of the India Sri Lanka International Maritime Boundary Line.”

It added that the matter was subjudice in the Supreme Court.

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