Tamil Nadu Chief Minister on Tuesday moved the Supreme Court to expedite the hearing of a writ petition filed by her in 2008 to declare as unconstitutional the 1974 and 1976 agreements between New Delhi and Colombo on ceding of Katchatheevu, an island off the Rameswaram coast, to Sri Lanka.
The court had in January 2009 issued notice to the Centre seeking its response to the petition, which highlighted the sufferings of fishermen from Tamil Nadu, who inadvertently strayed into the island.
In her petition, Ms. Jayalalithaa said because of the hostile attitude of the Sri Lankan Navy, fishermen feared to go fishing as they were either killed or taken into custody if they entered Katchatheevu. She said Katchatheevu was historically part of the Ramnad Raja’s zamindari and later became part of the Madras Presidency. The island had always been of strategic importance and special significance for fishing operations in the area. In or around 1921, Sri Lanka started claiming territorial rights over the island without any justification and notwithstanding such claims it continued to be part of India.
The Tamil Nadu government in September 2011 filed an application to implead itself in the case bringing on record the resolution passed by the State Assembly on June 9, 2011 to retrieve Katchatheevu. It referred to a Supreme Court judgment in the 1960 Berubari case in which it was held that cessation of the territory of India to a foreign country should be made with the approval of both Houses of Parliament by way of a constitutional amendment. However, in respect of Katchatheevu, the island was ceded to Sri Lanka without the approval of Parliament. It said the revenue records of Tamil Nadu had recognised Katchatheevu to be part of India.
In her fresh application seeking expeditious hearing, she drew the court’s attention to the happenings in the recent past from May 2011 till date. She said there had been 38 incidents of harassments and 23 incidents of apprehension (involving 379 fishermen). The incidents of attack and inhuman treatment of fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy had been brought to the notice of the Sri Lankan government through diplomatic channels. This led to issue of Joint Press Statements on fishing arrangements between India and Sri Lanka on October 26, 2008, January 31, 2011, March 31, 2011 and January 14, 2012, which emphasised treating Indian fishermen in a humanitarian manner.
She said she had written letters to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, bringing to his notice the double standards adopted by the Sri Lanka government.