Colombo has failed to honour Kachchatheevu agreement after 1983 - CPI

[TamilNet, Thursday, 01 May 2008, 07:02 GMT]
Communist Party of India (CPI) National Secretary D Raja on Tuesday made a special mention during the Zero Hour in the Indian Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament of India stated that the agreement on Kachchatheevu and the historical waters between the Government of India and the Government of Sri Lanka, signed in 1974, didn't work after 1983. Mr. Raja said there is a grey area in the agreement with regards to the right of access to the island by the Indian fishermen and said that the agreement should be reopened and renegotiated in order to protect the rights of fishermen.

Kachchatheevu Map
Satellite image showing the location of Kachchatheevu [Image courtesy: NASA, Visible Earth, Legend by TamilNet]

Kachchatheevu, a tiny islet situated midway between Neduntheevu (Delft) island of Sri Lanka and Ramesvaram island of India in the Palk Strait, was long an island of contention between India and Sri Lanka. It became a part of Sri Lanka through the agreement concluded in 1974, on the boundary of Historic Waters between the two countries. However, according to the agreement, the Indian fishermen and pilgrims can continue to have access to visit Kachchatheevu as it was before, without any travel document required by Sri Lanka.

It was agreed by both the countries that fishermen from Tamil Nadu would be allowed access to Kachatheevu Island for rest, for drying of nets and to offer prayers in the local St.Anthony's Church. However, the Indian fishermen have repeatedly asserted that their traditional fishing rights should be respected.

Following is the transcript of CPI National Secretary's speech at the Indian Rajya Sabha on 26 April, 2008:

SHRI D. RAJA (TAMIL NADU): Sir, I am raising an issue which is important for the rights of the fishermen; it is important for maintaining good neighbourly relations with our neighbouring countries, particularly with Sri Lanka.

India is having 7,516 kilometres long coast line along nine States and four Union Territories. Sea accounts for 90 per cent of India's trade by volume. The safety of Indian waters is crucial. India is the third largest producer of fish in the world and the second largest producer of fresh water fish in the world.

Having said this, I must see this Kachchativu Agreement in this background. The Agreement between the Government of India and the Government of Sri Lanka on the boundary in historic waters was signed in the year 1974. It was signed by Shrimati Indira Gandhi and Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Article 5 of the Agreement says 'subject to 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 for these purposes.

Article 6 of the agreement says, "The vessels of India and Sri Lanka will enjoy in each other's waters such rights as they are traditionally enjoyed therein".

Sir, this agreement worked from 1974 till 1983. After 1983, the problems arose.

Smt. Indira Gandhi, when signed the agreement, said, "Kacchativu was sheer rock of no strategic importance."

Now, the Kacchativu island in Palk Straits has become a strategic area. The U.S. imperialists do not want the Indian Ocean as the zone of peace.

In this background, we must see the war in Sri Lanka against the Tamil people is tending to be a war against Indian fishermen also.

There is harassment. Swaran Singh, the then External Minister, made it clear, "The fishermen were free to fish even round about the Kacchativu island." But on 11.5.2006, in the same Rajya Sabha, for a Starred Question No.396, E. Ahmed, the MOS for External Affairs Ministry has said, "Under the agreement, Indian fishermen are allowed to access Kacchativu island to rest, for drying of nets, for attending the annual Saint Anthony's festival. The right of access is not understood to cover fishing rights around the island to Indian fishermen."

This is a grey area, very vague and this needs that the agreement has to be reopened and renegotiated in order to protect the rights of fishermen.
Thank you.
DR. V. MAITREYAN (TAMIL NADU): Sir, I associate myself with the issue.

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