While I agree with Mr. Shunmugasundaram that the cession of Katchatheevu is illegal under Indian law, litigation before the Supreme Court is likely to result in nothing more than a declaration of historical illegality. Any direction from the Court for the repossession of the island will be infructuous since the government cannot unilaterally give effect to it. Any order to lease the island virtually acknowledges Sri Lankan sovereignty.
For any solution to be binding on Sri Lanka, one should look at international law. Even assuming that the treaties are not in effect, we are faced with (i) a long standing territorial dispute between the two states (ii) occupation and open display of purported sovereignty on the part of Sri Lanka for four decades (iii) silence on the part of India for four decades. Such silence is likely to be construed, in international law, as an abandonment of our claim.
I agree that Sri Lanka’s violations of her obligations, both under the treaties and under general international law, need to be addressed. The same may be pursued by raising specific claims in international law.
This episode also highlights the need for higher accountability and caution in India’s interactions with international law.
(Deepak Raju is a student of International Law at the University of Cambridge.)