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Katchatheevu Row, History of Island Handover to Sri Lanka- Key Points

Utkarsh Classes 01-04-2024
Katchatheevu Row, History of Island Handover to Sri Lanka- Key Points Place in News 5 min read

Documents obtained through an RTI application by Tamil Nadu's BJP chief K. Annamalai have revealed India's inconsistent approach to the Katchatheevu island dispute with Sri Lanka.

Island of Katchatheevu

  • Katchatheevu is a tiny island located in the Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka, with an area of 285 acres. 
  • It is situated around 33 km northeast of Rameswaram, India and approximately 62 km southwest of Jaffna, the northernmost point of Sri Lanka. 
  • The island is too small to support a permanent settlement, and it lacks a freshwater source, making it uninhabitable. 
  • The sole structure on the island is the St. Anthony's Church, built in the early 20th century. Annually, during a festival, Christian clergies from both India and Sri Lanka lead joint services, attracting pilgrims from both nations. In 2023, 2,500 Indian devotees travelled from Rameswaram to Katchatheevu to participate in the festival.
  • During the early medieval period, the island was under the control of Sri Lanka's Jaffna kingdom. 
  • However, by the 17th century, it had changed hands to the Ramnad kingdom based in Ramanathapuram, India. While under British rule, the island was administered as part of the Madras Presidency. 
  • Since 1921, both India and Sri Lanka have claimed ownership of the island to decide maritime fishing boundaries.

Agreement between India and Sri Lanka

  • In June 1974, the then-Prime Ministers of India and Sri Lanka, Indira Gandhi and Sirima R.D. Bandaranaike, signed an agreement. 
  • Agreement defined the boundary between India and Sri Lanka in the waters from the Palk Strait to Adam's Bridge. 
  • In accordance with historical evidence, international legal principles, and precedents, a joint statement issued on June 28, 1974.
  • Furthermore, the statement indicated that "marked the boundary between India and Sri Lanka lies one mile off the west coast of the uninhabited Katchatheevu." 
  • With this agreement India and Sri Lanka came to conslusion of negotiations that had been ongoing since October 1921, initially conducted between the governments of Madras and Ceylon.

Katchatheevu controversy 

  • There is a dispute between India and Sri Lanka over the jurisdiction of Katchatheevu island. Sri Lanka claims sovereignty over the island, citing the Portuguese occupation from 1505 to 1658 CE as evidence of their jurisdiction. India, however, argues that the former Raja of Ramnad held possession of the island as part of his estate. 
  • According to the former Raja, Ramanatha Sethupathi, that Katchatheevu had been under the jurisdiction of the Ramnad Estate. 
  • Although taxes were collected by the estate until 1947, the state government took over following the Zamindari Abolition Act.
  • During a debate in India's Lok Sabha in July 1974, the then External Affairs Minister Swaran Singh stated that the decision regarding Katchatheevu had been made after a thorough study of historical and other records pertaining to the island. 
  • Indian fishermen, especially those from Tamil Nadu, consider Katchatheevu to be important since they often face action from the Sri Lankan authorities while fishing in the region.

FAQ

Answer: Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka

Answer: India

Answer: India and Sri Lanka

Answer: 1974
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