Environment & Biodiversity

Katchatheevu Island Conundrum

The Prime Minister recently alleged that then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi gave the island of Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka without cause.

About Katchatheevu Island

  • Katchatheevu is a small, uninhabited island of 285 acres located between India and Sri Lanka.
  • It is located in the Palk Strait.
  • It was previously owned by the ruler of Ramnad (now Ramanathapuram, Tamil Nadu).
  • Fishermen utilise the island to dry their nets.
  • Despite its small size, the island is religiously significant, as it houses Anthony’s church, a centuries-old Catholic shrine loved by believers from both countries.
  • Aside from its religious significance, Katchatheevu is an important ecosystem that supports a rich flora and fauna unique to the region’s marine environment.

A Quick Overview of its History

  • During British administration, India and Sri Lanka administered it jointly.
  • In the early twentieth century, Sri Lanka claimed territorial control of the islet.
  • In 1974, India handed the island to Sri Lanka via a mutual agreement, and in 1976, India gave up its fishing rights in the region.

Present Issue

  • Treaties establishing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) were signed between the two countries in 1974 and 1976.
  • However, the agreement could not prevent fishermen from fishing in these areas because fishermen know no boundaries.

Culmination of the Political Dispute

  • The political dispute left Indian fishermen with unresolved worries about their fishing rights, resulting in smouldering resentment among communities.
  • Sri Lankan Atrocities: The civil war in Sri Lanka overshadowed the Katchatheevu issue, with Indian fishermen detained and accused of abuse by the Sri Lankan navy.
  • Renewed Demands: Instances of fishermen’s rights abuses rekindled Tamil Nadu lawmakers’ calls for the retrieval of Katchatheevu, emphasising the misery of impacted fishing communities.
  • The pact has provoked major demonstrations and political backlash in Tamil Nadu, with regional parties and activists decrying what they see as an abandoning of Indian sovereignty over Katchatheevu. 

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