The State Assembly on Friday passed a resolution demanding that the Union government take immediate steps to take back control of Katchatheevu, a small island ceded to Sri Lanka in 1974.
The immediate context for reviving this demand, voiced by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in 1991 and raised by her from time to time, is what the resolution called “continued violent attacks, torture and arrest of Tamil Nadu fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy.”
The text of the resolution, which was included in the legislature’s agenda only on Friday morning, said the ceding of the island was legally invalid in view of the Supreme Court’s judgement in the Berubari case. The court had, in that case, ruled that any such agreement required to be backed by appropriate legislation in Parliament. Ms. Jayalalithaa has cited this verdict in support of her legal challenge in 2008 to the validity of the maritime boundary agreements between India and Sri Lanka signed in 1974 and 1976.
Replying to the discussion on the resolution, the Chief Minister said there were seven instances of the Sri Lankan Navy harassing and imprisoning fishermen from Tamil Nadu in the last two months. Thirty fishermen were still languishing in prisons there and five of them had spent more than a year. “Under these circumstances, the retrieval of Katchatheevu is the only way to protect our fishermen,” she said.
Earlier, moving the resolution, the Chief Minister said the retrieval of Katchatheevu, which fell on the Sri Lankan side of the maritime boundary under an agreement signed in 1974, had become necessary in the context of continued attacks on fishermen from Tamil Nadu by the Sri Lankan Navy. This would bring to an end the uncertainty over the livelihood of the fishermen and also find a permanent solution to the fishermen issue, she said.
Ms. Jayalalithaa accused former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi of being fully aware of the handing over of Katchatheevu even before the pact was signed. As Chief Minister, he could have either organised a State-wide protest or approached the Supreme Court. Instead, Mr Karunanidhi passed a resolution in the Assembly to put an end to the Katchatheevu issue by saying that he was not aware of the agreement.
However, in a resolution passed by the Tamil Eelam Supporters Organisation (TESO) on April 16, 2013, he contended that the clause on fishing for Tamil Nadu fishermen was included in the agreement at the insistence of his government. The livelihood of fishermen was severely affected because of the inaction and dual stand adopted by Mr Karunanidhi, she said.
The Chief Minister recalled that she had given a call for the retrieval of Katchatheevu on the Independence Day in 1991 and also got a resolution passed on October 3, 1991. She had been reiterating her stand through frequent meetings with the Prime Minister and also writing to him.
After assuming office for the second time in 2001, she met the Prime Minister to stress the need for India to obtain the island on lease-in-perpetuity for fishing. In 2008, she filed a petition in the Supreme Court to declare the Katchatheevu agreements of 1974 and 1976 as null and void.
Another resolution for impleading the Department of Revenue in the 2008 case was passed in the Assembly on June 8, 2011.