Indian fishermen have no right to fish in and around Katchatheevu — the islet ceded to Sri Lanka —according to two bilateral pacts signed in 1974 and 1976, the Centre submitted before the Madras High Court on Thursday.
The Centre specified its stand in a counter affidavit when a PIL came up for hearing before the first bench comprising Chief Justice R K Agrawal and Justice K Ravichandrabaabu.
Coming four days ahead of scheduled talks between fisherfolk of the two countries, the Union government’s position is at variance with that taken by all stakeholders in Tamil Nadu, who question the ceding of the islet and insist on fishermen’s rights to look for catch in that area.
Sri Lanka’s sovereignty over Katchatheevu was a settled matter, the Centre maintained. The case was adjourned for further hearing on Monday.
The PIL filed by L T A Peter Rayan, president, Fisherman Care, contended that External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid’s statement in Rajya Sabha, in response to a Calling Attention Notice of AIADMK MP V Maitreyan on the Sri Lankan Navy’s attacks on Indian fishermen, appeared to be in contravention of the 1974 agreement. Rayan said the agreement guaranteed rights to fishermen of both countries to enjoy traditional rights of fishing in each other’s waters.
“Article 6 of the 1974 agreement does not confer fishing rights to Indian fishermen at Katchatheevu and only speaks of traditional rights of vessels, not fishermen. Thus, no rights of fishing in Lankan waters were bestowed under the 1974 and 1976 agreements,” the counter read. The Centre also informed the court that Wadge Bank, near Kaniyakumari, came within India’s Exclusive Economic Zone—where India has sovereign rights on the area and its resources as per the 1976 agreement—while settling the issue of a maritime boundary between India and Lanka. Also, under the 1974 and 1976 agreements, traditional rights only allowed access to fishermen to visit Katchatheevu to dry nets and rest—not for fishing rights in the area—and for pilgrims to attend the annual St Antony festival.