``India can’t take back Kachchatheevu,’’: official



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BY s Venkat Narayan Special Correspondent


NEW DELHI: India cannot take back Kachchatheevu from Sri Lanka for the simple reason that the uninhabited island in the Palk Strait falls on the Sri Lankan side of the international maritime boundary line (IMBL), and India had formally ceded it to the island nation through the 1974 and 1976 agreements, a senior central government official has said.


"How can we take back an island that is clearly on the Sri Lankan side of the IMBL ? The Government of India is actually fighting in courts nearly a dozen cases that have been filed, demanding that Kachchatheevu be taken back from Sri Lanka," the official told the Sunday Island here on Thursday.


Kachchatheevu is a 285-acre or 1.15sq km island situated between the two countries. It used to be a part of India until June 1974, when India ceded it to Sri Lanka by signing a boundary agreement. It is now a part of the Jaffna district in the island-nation’s northern province.


Indian fishermen have rights to the rich fishing grounds in the territorial waters of Sri Lanka around Kachchatheevu. The St Anthony Church on the barren island attracts devotees from both the countries.


Quite often, Indian fishermen stray into Sri Lankan side of the IMBL and get into trouble with Sri Lankan naval authorites. They get arrested, their fishing vessels are seized, and there are incidents of firing and injuries. These incidents continue to cause problems for the governments of both the countries.


The problems of the fishermen of Jaffna and Tamil Nadu will be discussed at a meeting of the joint working group on fishing of both the countries in Colombo next month.


Early this year, Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna appealed to fishermen from Tamil Nadu to respect Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, and refrain from crossing the IMBL.


Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and General Secretary of the state’s ruling AIADMK Jayaram Jayalalithaa is possibly the most vociferous in demanding that India retrieve Kachchatheevu from Sri Lanka.


On June 10 this year, the Tamil Nadu assembly adopted a unanimous resolution calling upon the state’s Revenue Department to implede itself in a case filed by Ms Jayalalithaa in the Supreme Court in August 2008. In that case, she has sought the declaration of the 1974 and 1976 agreements between India and Sri Lanka on ceding Kachchatheevu to Sri Lanka as "unconstitutional."


Speaking on the resolution, Ms Jayalalithaa said she has been making efforts to retrieve the island from Sri Lanka at least for the last 20 years. In September 2004, she presented a memorandum to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, calling upon the central government to retrieve Kachchatheevu through a "lease in perpetuity" and restore it to Tamil Nadu fishermen.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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