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Indian statements on 'reclaiming' Katchatheevu island have 'no ground', says Sri Lankan minister

PM Modi slammed the Congress and DMK for overlooking national interests and "callously" ceding the Katchatheevu island to Sri Lanka in 1974. A no-fishing pact was signed in 1976, after which 6,000 Indian fishermen have been arrested by Sri Lanka in last 20 years, said EAM Jaishankar.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Colombo Published on: April 05, 2024 12:40 IST
Sri Lanka, India, Katchatheevu island, PM Modi
Image Source : DOUGLAS DEVANANDA (X) Sri Lanka's Minister for Fisheries, Douglas Devananda

Colombo: On the Katchatheevu island issue that has become a hot topic in India ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, Sri Lankan Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda on Thursday said these statements on reclaiming the island ceded by New Delhi decades ago have "no ground". This comes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi targeted the Congress and the DMK party in Tamil Nadu for "callously" handing over the island to Sri Lanka in 1974.

PM Modi slammed the Congress and DMK for overlooking national interests and not ensuring the rights of the fishermen wanting to fish in waters around the Katchatheevu island. The Indian Prime Minister cited an RTI reply obtained by Tamil Nadu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief K Annamalai, saying the then Indira Gandhi government in 1974 had handed over the 1.9 square km island located at Palk Strait, 20 km from the Indian shore, to Sri Lanka.

“It is the election time in India, it is not unusual to hear such noises of claims and counterclaims about Katchatheevu," Devananda told reporters in Jaffna on Thursday. "I think India is acting on its interests to secure this place to ensure Sri Lankan fishermen would not have any access to that area and that Sri Lanka should not claim any rights in that resourceful area."

Devananda on 1976 no-fishing pact

The Sri Lankan minister asserted that Indian claims on reclaiming the uninhabited island have no ground and highlighted that the 1974 agreement permitted fishermen from both countries to fish in the territorial waters of both countries, but it was later reviewed and amended in 1976 to ban the fishermen from fishing in neighbouring countries.

“There claims to be a place called West Bank which is located below Kanyakumari - it is a much bigger area with extensive sea resources - it is 80 times bigger than Kachchatheevu, India secured it at the 1976 review agreement," said Devananda, who has faced pressure from local fishermen in recent months.

No further discussions needed; Sri Lanka's foreign minister

Earlier on Wednesday, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry said there is no need to re-open talks about the contentious Katchatheevu island ceded by India 50 years ago. "This is a problem discussed and resolved 50 years ago and there is no necessity to have further discussions on this. I don’t think it will come up," Sabry said, adding that no one had yet raised the question of a change in the status of the island.

This came after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said that administrations under Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi showed indifference towards the island issue. Jaishankar, who held a press conference at BJP headquarters in New Delhi, quoted the RTI reply and questioned how the Indira Gandhi-led government had "gifted" the island to the neighbouring nation, without taking the country in confidence. 

"The island was given away in 1974 and the fishing rights were given away in 1976... One, the most basic recurring (aspect) is the indifference shown by the then central government and the PMs about the territory of India... That fact is they simply did not care..." Jaishankar said in a press conference today. Jaishankar also claimed that Indira Gandhi had called the Katchatheevu island a "piece of rock" during an All India Congress Committee meeting.

India ceded the island to Sri Lanka in 1974, followed by the pact on the fishermen in 1976, but unhappiness over the transfer and the abridged rights spurred two as yet unresolved Supreme Court challenges in the last 20 years. The fishermen of both countries have occasionally violated the pact on the waters around the uninhabited island. So far this year, at least 178 Indian fishermen and 23 trawlers have been arrested by the Sri Lanka Navy. 

(with inputs from PTI)

ALSO READ | 'No need for further discussions': Sri Lanka on Katchatheevu island ceded by India decades ago

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