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Dispute Related to Katchatheevu Island


Katchatheevu Island has emerged as a focal point in the India-Sri Lanka relationship, particularly due to the contentious issue of fishing rights in the surrounding waters. This small but significant island exemplifies the complexities associated with maritime boundary disputes and the competing claims over fishing resources in the region. The unresolved issues concerning Katchatheevu underscore the challenges faced by both countries in managing their maritime boundaries and ensuring sustainable fishing practices.


GS II: International Relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Dispute Related to Katchatheevu Island: A Comprehensive Overview
  2. Stakeholder Positions on the Katchatheevu Issue: An Overview
  3. Maritime Disputes of India with Neighbouring Nations: An Overview

Dispute Related to Katchatheevu Island: A Comprehensive Overview

Basic Facts:
  • Location: Katchatheevu is a 285-acre uninhabited island situated in the Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka.
  • Geographical Position: It is located approximately 33 km northeast of Rameswaram (India) and 62 km southwest of Jaffna (Sri Lanka).
  • Significance: Despite its uninhabited nature, the island hosts St. Anthony’s church, an early 20th-century Catholic shrine that attracts devotees from both India and Sri Lanka.
Historical Background:
  • Formation: The island was formed due to a volcanic eruption in the 14th century.
  • Early Rulers: Initially under the Jaffna kingdom of Sri Lanka, the island came under the control of the Ramnad zamindari, governed by the Nayak dynasty of Madurai in the 17th century.
Ownership Dispute:
  • India’s Claim: India and Sri Lanka disputed the ownership of Katchatheevu, which was part of the Madras Presidency during British rule.
  • Sri Lanka’s Claim: Sri Lanka based its sovereignty claim on the Portuguese occupation of the island from 1505 to 1658 CE.
  • 1974 Agreement: The Indo-Sri Lankan Maritime Agreement of 1974 transferred the island’s ownership to Sri Lanka.
  • 1976 Agreement: An additional accord prohibited both countries from fishing in each other’s Exclusive Economic Zones, but it failed to clarify fishing rights around Katchatheevu due to its ambiguous positioning at the boundary of these zones.
  • Post-2009 Tensions: The end of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009 led to increased tensions over Indian fishermen entering Sri Lankan waters, resulting in arrests, allegations of custodial torture, and renewed demands by India to retrieve Katchatheevu.
Contentious Issues:
  • Fishing Rights: The 1974 agreement allowed Indian fishermen to access Katchatheevu, but differing interpretations have led to ongoing disputes. Sri Lanka restricts Indian fishermen from engaging in activities like resting, drying nets, and visiting the shrine without a visa.

Stakeholder Positions on the Katchatheevu Issue: An Overview

1970s-1990s: Tamil Nadu’s Assertive Stance
  • 1973: The then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu urged the central government to retain Katchatheevu, emphasizing that the island belonged to India as a whole, not just Tamil Nadu.
  • 1991: The issue gained renewed attention when another Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu called for the retrieval of Katchatheevu. The demand was later modified to seek a perpetual lease of the island. Both the Chief Minister and the Leader of the Opposition approached the Supreme Court with this demand.
2010s-2020s: Central Government’s Evolving Stance
  • 2013: The Union government informed the Supreme Court that reclaiming Katchatheevu from Sri Lanka was not relevant, as no Indian territory was relinquished. The government cited historical agreements from 1974 and 1976 as settling the dispute.
  • 2022: In a shift from its previous stance, the Union government, while referencing the 1974 and 1976 agreements, clarified in its reply to the Rajya Sabha that Katchatheevu “lies on the Sri Lankan side of the India-Sri Lanka International Maritime Boundary Line.”
Current Status:
  • Sub Judice: The matter remains under judicial review in the Supreme Court, indicating that a final resolution to the Katchatheevu dispute is yet to be determined.

Maritime Disputes of India with Neighbouring Nations: An Overview

India-Pakistan: Sir Creek Dispute
  • Nature of Dispute: The maritime boundary along Sir Creek, a 96-km tidal estuary in the Rann of Kutch region, remains a contentious issue between India and Pakistan.
  • Background: The dispute stems from ambiguities in the demarcation of the boundary, particularly the issue of whether the boundary should follow the course of the creek’s main channel or its western flank.
  • Status: Despite numerous bilateral discussions and attempts to resolve the issue, including joint surveys and talks by respective border security agencies, a mutually acceptable resolution remains elusive.
India-Bangladesh: New Moore Island (South Talpatti)
  • Nature of Dispute: The dispute centered on New Moore Island (also known as South Talpatti) in the Bay of Bengal, claimed by both India and Bangladesh.
  • Background: The island emerged in the Bay of Bengal in the aftermath of a cyclone in the 1970s, leading to competing claims based on territorial waters and continental shelf boundaries.
  • Resolution: In 2014, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruled in favour of Bangladesh, settling the maritime boundary dispute and delineating the territorial waters, exclusive economic zones, and the continental shelf between the two nations.

-Source: The Hindu

May 2024