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EXCLUSIVE! Sri Lanka says Katchatheevu issue 'settled', signed by 'wise persons' from Colombo and New Delhi

A senior official in the Sri Lankan government conveyed to Asianet Newsable that bringing up the Katchatheevu issue decades later is primarily a concern for New Delhi, not Colombo. They emphasized that the agreement, signed in 1974, was grounded in historical realities. Anish Kumar reports

Exclusive Sri Lanka says Katchatheevu issue 'settled', signed by 'wise persons' from Colombo and New Delhi
First Published Apr 1, 2024, 8:45 PM IST

Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Affairs Minister S Jaishankar lashed out at the Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam over the agreement inked between India and Sri Lanka on Katchatheevu islet during Indira Gandhi’s regime in 1974, the Sri Lankan side viewed it as a 'settled' issue.

Stating that raking up the Katchatheevu issue after a gap of decades is 'New Delhi’s matter' and not that of Colombo, a senior government functionary in the Sri Lankan government told Asianet Newsable that the agreement was signed in 1974 based on historical facts. 

Katchatheevu Island was the part of Jaffna Kingdom and the 'wise persons' from both countries signed the agreement in the 1970s, the official said. However, the official also mentioned that it would be inappropriate to comment at this time as the elections are around the corner in both countries.

On March 31, PM Modi lashed out at the Grand Old Party over the Katchatheevu Island, which was ceded to Sri Lanka by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The agreement was signed to demarcate the boundary between the two countries in the historic waters from Palk Strait to Adam’s Bridge.

On April 1, Jaishankar held a press conference in the national capital and said that the Congress government had given away the rights of Indian fishermen in that area and was refusing to own up responsibility for the same.

The political row between the ruling BJP at the Centre and the Opposition -- Congress and DMK -- has intensified in Tamil Nadu ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, after state BJP chief K Annamalai revealed how the Indira Gandhi government handed over Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka in 1974.

What is the Katchatheevi issue all about?

Katchatheevu Island is a 285-acre stretch of uninhabited off-shore island, located 33 km from the Indian coast, in the Palk Strait between Rameswaram in India and Sri Lanka. The island came into existence after a volcanic eruption in the 14th century. The island was controlled by the Jaffna kingdom of Sri Lanka in the early medieval period.

Since the 17th century, the Ramnad Kingdom based out of Ramanathapuram, about 55 km northwest of Rameswaram used to control the islet. During British rule, both countries staked claim to the area till it was settled in 1974.

Until 1976, the Indian fishermen had fishing rights but after that, the rights were denied in Katchatheevu Island.

During the 1970s, there was little strategic value but in the last two decades, the geopolitical landscape has drastically changed due to the belligerent influence of China in the Sri Lankan waters. Now, the island has become a territory of strategic importance for India.

Katchatheevu Island and the Narendra Modi government

After coming to power in 2014, the Narendra Modi government had said in the Supreme Court that the country would have to wage a war to get back Katchatheevu Island.

In 2015, in reply to a Right to Information (RTI), the Modi government said: "This did not involve either acquiring or ceding territory belonging to India since the area in question had never been demarcated. Under the Agreements, the Island of Katchatheevu lies on the Sri Lankan side of the India-Sri Lanka International Maritime Boundary Line."

Shiv Sena leader and Rajya Sabha MP Priyanka Chaturvedi has questioned this RTI repose with the one received by Annamalai. She asked, "So is the change in stance for their election politics or has Modiji made a case for Sri Lanka?”

Also Read: 'Katchatheevu unmasked DMK...' PM Modi says Congress and DMK harmed 'interests of poor fishermen'

Also Read: 'For them, that 'rock' didn't matter to India at all...' BJP fires another salvo at Congress over Katchatheevu

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