One of the issues which creates friction between India and Sri lanka is the capturing of Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan waters off the Kachchativu island which is in Sri Lankan waters but by a treaty of sea border settlement pushed by Mrs Indira Gandhi. Indian fishermen contest traditional fishing rights.
Kachchativu was used by the British for naval gunnery exercises is an island that lies about 15 miles North-East of Rameshwaran and approximately 14 miles South-West of Delft Islands. There are no permanent inhabitants or any permanent structures on the Island other than a Roman Catholic St Antony’s Church, administered by the Bishop of Jaffna as part of his Diocese. The island is rich in the surrounding seabed around Kachchativu with prawns, chank shells, pearl oysters and corals, and the prospect of oil and gas in the region. Governments of Sri Lanka have always maintained a consistent policy founded on historical facts on the ownership of Kachchativu.
There are three clauses of the 1974 agreement which are vague and redundant today.
Article 4 of the Agreement stipulates that each State shall have sovereignty and exclusive jurisdiction and control over the waters, the Islands, the Continental Shelf and the sub soil on its side of the Maritime boundary in the Palk Strait and Palk Bay and Kachchativu Island was determined as falling within Sri Lankan waters.
Article 5 of the 1974 Agreement is confusing with Catch 22 clause as it provides that “Subject to the foregoing, Indian fishermen and pilgrims will enjoy access to visit Kachchativu as hitherto, and will not be required by Sri Lanka to obtain travel documents or visas for these purposes.”
Article 6 of the Agreement states that , “ The vessels of India and Sri Lank will enjoy in each other’s waters such rights as they have traditionally enjoyed therein.”
A public interest litigation (PIL) was filed by B. Stalin, through his counsel W. Peter Rameshkumar in the Madras High Court Bench seeking a direction to the Centre for scrapping the 1974 Indo-Sri Lankan accord on Kachchathivu island and approach the International Court of Justice claiming damages from Sri Lankan Navy for killing hundreds of Indian fishermen on charges of fishing beyond the maritime border.
Another controversial issue is the Seethusamudram channel’s passing close to Sri Lanka without its concurrence which they claim may cause ecological damages on their side of the border. The issue is dormant now as even Indian Hindu fundamentalists want a new alignment and more than Rs 500 crores spent in planning and dredging has been lost by investors including SCI, and possibly the gains made by DMK which had Shipping Ministers at the centre in our traditional coalition politics not to audit accounts.
It is time India and Sri Lanka sat down and sorted out the confusion of where to train Sri Lankan military, clear the state of Kachachativu where Indians have visitation rights on St Antony day and many throng to Kachitivu for a religious outing and fishermen goaded by Tamil Nadu politics stray across the border and keep Indian Coast Guard and Navy in patrol, in a state not knowing what to do.