July 01, Chennai: India's central government told a state court today that Tamil Nadu fishermen have no rights to fishing in Sri Lanka's Katchatheevu islet in the Palk Strait.
In an affidavit filed before the Madras High Court in Chennai, the Indian government said the Katchatheevu islet is a sovereign property of Sri Lanka ceded to island nation by the 1974 and 1976 agreements between the two countries and the agreements do not confer any fishing rights on fishermen from India in the islet, Press Trust of India reported.
"Under the agreements of 1974 and 1976, Indian fishermen and pilgrims will enjoy access to Katchatheevu and will not be required by Sri Lanka to obtain travel documents or visas for these purposes. The right of access is not understood to cover fishing rights around the island to Indian fishermen," the Center said in the reply affidavit.
The affidavit was in response to a PIL filed by Fishermen Care President L A Peter Rayan seeking to retake the islet ceded to Sri Lanka by India in 1974.
Disputing the PIL claim, which does not recognize Sri Lanka's sovereignty of the island and says that the agreements had clear provisions for allowing Indian fishermen to do fishing around the island, the center government said the boundary between the two countries had already been clearly delineated and it would not allow Indian fishermen to cross over and exploit the marine resources in the waters of another country.
Under the treaty agreement of 1974, Indian fishermen have lost the rights to fishing around the island as it is within the territorial waters of Sri Lanka and the 1976 agreement has established the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL), which the fishermen in the two countries are not allowed to cross into each other's territory.
It said the fishermen could rest, dry their nets and attend the annual St Antony's festival in Katchatheevu.
The transfer of the uninhabited island with only a Catholic shrine has been under dispute since the transfer as Indian fishermen claim they have the rights to fish around the island.
Last year, the Tamil Nadu government under Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa filed a petition in the Indian Supreme Court seeking the declaration of the 1974 agreement between India and Sri Lanka on ceding Kachchativu to the latter as unconstitutional.
The Centre, however, said government of India had continuously emphasized to the Sri Lankan government that there was no justification for use of force against Indian fishermen even though almost all instances of alleged harassment of fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy occur in Sri Lankan waters.
A bench, comprising acting Chief Justice Satish K Agnihotri and Justice M M Sundresh, adjourned the matter by two weeks for further hearing.