Katchatheevu Island Issue

Katchatheevu Island Issue

Katchatheevu Island Issue

Where is the Island of Katchatheevu?

  • Katchatheevu is a 285-acre uninhabited speck in the Palk Strait, between India and Sri Lanka. It is no more than 1.6 km in length and slightly over 300 m wide at its broadest point.
  • It lies northeast of Rameswaram, about 33 km from the Indian coast. It is about 62 km southwest of Jaffna, at the northern tip of Sri Lanka, and 24 km away from the inhabited Delft Island, belonging to Sri Lanka.
  • Katchatheevu is not suited for permanent settlement as there is no source of drinking water on the island.
Katchatheevu Island Issue

Historical Background

  • Earlier, it was owned by the Ramnad Kingdom of Ramanathapuram Rameshwaram which later came under the Madras Presidency during British rule of India.
  • It was recognized by Ceylon as part of British India after the delimitation of the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Strait between the then governments of Madras and Ceylon.
  • However, in 1921, both Sri Lanka and India laid claims to Katchatheevu.

Post Independence

  • In 1974, then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi ceded Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka under the “Indo-Sri Lankan Maritime Agreement”
  • The agreement aimed at resolving the maritime boundaries in the Palk Strait.
  • Another agreement signed in 1976 restricted both the countries’ fishermen from fishing in each other’s exclusive economic zones.

Why the Katchatheevu Island is Important?

Humanitarian and Livelihood Concerns

  • About 10 miles northeast of Rameshwaram, the island is used by Indian fishermen to dry their nets, catch fish, and rest.
  • Frequent arrests on the border have increased, and Sri Lankan authorities said that they are protecting their maritime boundaries against poaching, and securing the livelihood of Sri Lankan fishermen.
  • Both sides ensure no use of force under any circumstances. However, the violent situation remains the same.
  • Between 1983 and 2009, the Sri Lankan Navy was responsible for the deaths of around 250 fishermen; in addition, hundreds of fishermen were hurt, had their equipment destroyed, or had their catch confiscated.

Impact on India- Sri Lanka Relations

  • Indian fishermen face severely restricted access to traditional fishing grounds, increasing harassment by the Sri Lankan Navy, and arrest by the Sri Lankan Navy on criminal charges. 
  • Restoration of fishing rights to the traditional fishing grounds of Palk Bay has always been one of the top priorities of the Tamil Nadu government.
  • This Katchatheevu Island Issue is an emotional issue for the people of Tamil Nadu.
  • Sri Lankans on the other hand lay full claim over the island as it may not be suitable for living but is appropriate for fishing.
  • The Katchatheevu Island Issue has also sometimes led to gunfire between the coast guards of the two countries.

How Could the Situation be Improved?

  • Regular patrolling, establishing communication channels, and installing warning systems can significantly reduce harassment and arrests. 
  • Regular meetings and consultations for the joint task force set up in 2016, will help build trust, facilitate effective communication, and ensure smooth fishing. 

Related Links:

Free Movement RegimeIndia – Sri Lanka Relations
String of Pearls StrategyBelt and Road Initiative