The Prayas ePathshala

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04 May 2024 – The Hindu


All about Katchatheevu Island

  • Islands have become a significant component of India’s new geopolitics, whether it is the Maldives, which now dominate much of the country’s thinking in the expanding maritime joust with China, or India’s new engagement with resource-rich Papua New Guinea in the Pacific Islands, the cooperative development of infrastructure on Mauritius’s Agalega island, the partnership with Australia in the eastern Indian Ocean islands, or the government’s focus on developing the Andamans to the east, the Lakshadweep to the west, and Katchatheevu, which borders Sri Lanka.
  • Due to the impending 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the Katchatheevu Islands have come back into the public eye. This is a good opportunity to court voters in Tamil Nadu, where there is a lot of debate about the long-standing difficulties with fishermen from Sri Lanka.

What Island is Katchatheevu?

  • Two deserted islands called the Katchatheevu Islands are situated in the Palk Strait, between the northern coast of Sri Lanka and the southeast coast of India (Tamil Nadu).
  • Imaravan is the name of the smaller island, and Katchatheevu is the name of the larger island. Because of their strategic location and significance to Sri Lankan and Indian fishing operations, these islands have had a considerable historical impact.

Fishermen’s Concern:

  • Between India and Sri Lanka, ownership of Katchatheevu has been a major source of conflict, particularly with regard to fishing rights in the nearby waters. Tamil Nadu fishermen have been impacted more than others since they maintain traditional fishing privileges in the region.
  • The transfer of sovereignty over Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka has led to limitations on Indian fishermen’s ability to access customary fishing areas throughout the island. This has resulted in multiple confrontations and the apprehension of Indian fishermen by the authorities of Sri Lanka.

Position on Politics and Law:

  • Politically speaking, several Indian parties have utilised the Katchatheevu issue to attack the government’s position on the subject. Concerning the legitimacy of the agreements giving the island to Sri Lanka, there have also been legal objections made.
  • To resolve the concerns of Tamil Nadu fisherman, bilateral conversations have been held between Sri Lanka and India, notwithstanding the sensitive nature of the matter. Various ideas have been put forth to find an amicable solution, like cooperative patrols and fishing zones.

What is the current state of relations between Sri Lanka and India?

Historical Connections:

  • Trade, religion, and cultural relations between India and Sri Lanka date back thousands of years.
  • The two nations have close cultural ties, with many Sri Lankans deriving their ancestry from India. India is the birthplace of Buddhism, which is a significant religion in Sri Lanka.

Indian Financial Assistance:

  • During an extraordinary economic crisis, India gave Sri Lanka help worth about USD 4 billion, which was essential to the country’s survival.
  • A severe shortage of foreign exchange reserves caused Sri Lanka to experience the biggest financial crisis since gaining independence from Britain in 1948, which occurred in 2022.

Function in Debt Reorganisation:

  • India has assisted Sri Lanka in restructuring its debt by working with creditors and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
  • Among China, Japan, and India, India was also the first to deliver a letter of support for Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring and financing.

A shared vision for connectivity:

  • A shared vision, agreed upon by the two nations, places a strong emphasis on holistic connectivity, encompassing port connection, logistics, People to People connectivity, renewable energy cooperation, and grid connectivity for power trading.
  • Sri Lanka also participates in organisations led by India, such as SAARC and BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation).
  • In order to integrate their economies and promote development, both nations are investigating the potential of signing an Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA).

Consent for a Petroleum Pipeline with Multiple Projects:

  • The establishment of a multiproduct petroleum pipeline from southern India to Sri Lanka has been agreed upon by both countries.
  • The goal of this pipeline is to give Sri Lanka access to a reasonably priced and dependable supply of energy resources. The importance of energy for advancement and economic growth is what is motivating efforts to build the petroleum pipeline.

Acceptance of UPI in India:

  • With Sri Lanka’s adoption of India’s UPI technology, the two nations’ fintech connectivity has improved significantly.
  • The rupee’s use in trade settlements is also boosting Sri Lanka’s economy. These are practical measures to support the growth and recovery of Sri Lanka’s economy.

Financial Links:

  • After the US and UK, India is Sri Lanka’s third-biggest export market. The advantages of the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement are seen in more than 60% of Sri Lanka’s exports. Another significant investor in Sri Lanka is India.
  • India has long been one of Sri Lanka’s top trading partners, and in the SAARC, Sri Lanka continues to rank among India’s top trading partners. In 2021, bilateral merchandise trade between Sri Lanka and India totaled USD 5.45 billion, making India the country’s biggest trading partner.
  • With over 100,000 visitors in 2022, India ranked as Sri Lanka’s main tourism supplier.
  • Joint military and naval exercises (Mitra Shakti and SLINEX) are conducted by India and Sri Lanka.
  • How have relations between Sri Lanka and India changed in relation to the Katchatheevu Islands?
  • Colonial Period: Up to the 19th Century: Sri Lanka used the Portuguese occupancy of the island, which lasted from 1505 to 1658 CE, as proof of its authority in order to establish its control over Katchatheevu.
  • During the colonial era, the British controlled the little island. The island, which subsequently became a part of the Madras Presidency, is supposed to have been possessed by the Raja of Ramnad, or modern-day Ramanathapuram in Tamil Nadu.
  • Changes in the 20th Century: In the 1920s, there was a long-standing controversy about exclusive fishing rights over Katchatheevu, which was sought after by both India and Sri Lanka. After both nations attained independence in the 1940s, the problem remained. During a visit to India in 1968, the prime minister of Sri Lanka formally brought up the issue, stating that Sri Lanka was the rightful owner of Katchatheevu.
  • Following discussions between Prime Ministers of Sri Lanka and India, Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Indira Gandhi, the 1974 Agreement on the Boundary in Historic Waters was signed by the two nations.
  • This agreement established a border based on historical data, established legal precedents, and situated Katchatheevu one mile off the west coast of Sri Lanka.
  • Significance for Indian Fishermen: Katchatheevu Island was found to be within Sri Lankan waters, and Article 4 of the Agreement stated that each State shall have sovereignty, exclusive jurisdiction, and control over the waters, the Islands, the Continental Shelf, and the subsoil on its side of the maritime boundary in the Palk Strait and Palk Bay.
  • “Indian fishermen and pilgrims would enjoy access to the island as before and would not be required by Sri Lanka to obtain travel documents or visas for these purposes,” the cited article that followed said.

Which Other Global Strategic Geographies Apply to India?


  • In a 2007 speech to the Indian Parliament, the late Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe originally floated the notion. He asked India to consider the Pacific and Indian oceans as the “confluence of the two oceans.”
  • It took till more than ten years later, in the summer of 2018, for the Prime Minister of India to formally adopt the Indo-Pacific concept in a speech at the yearly Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore.
  • Delhi’s reevaluation was influenced in part by the strengthening strategic alliance with the United States and India’s worsening relations with China, which were highlighted by a string of military crises in 2013, 2014, and 2017.
  • Both the Indo-Pacific and the Quad, which unites Australia, India, Japan, and the US, have become well-established concepts in Indian discourse.


  • If the US and Japan popularised the “Indo-Pacific” concept, Russia is credited with driving the “Eurasian” conception. Russia views the enormous Eurasian landmass as its natural sphere of influence as a great power that borders both Europe and Asia.
  • The Eurasian concept was institutionalised through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which was constructed in tandem by China and Russia.
  • With its ties to Russia, its interests in continental Asia, and its desire for a multipolar world, Eurasia is significant to India in a number of ways.
  • New regions of significance for India in Europe and beyond are the Nordic region, the Nordic-Baltic coalition, and the Caucasus. Ukraine recently highlighted India’s potential role in influencing war and peace in Central Europe, whose unstable politics have sparked two world wars and threaten to start a third.

Middle East-Indian Geography:

  • The Abraham Accords, the conflict in Gaza, the growing influence of the Arab Gulf, India’s closer ties to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the proposal for an economic corridor connecting Europe and India through the Middle East, the deployment of about 20 Indian naval vessels in the Red Sea region, and the growing engagement with Africa are all contributing to a more interconnected view of the Middle East, Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Western Indian Ocean.
  • Formerly regarded as discrete areas, they now emphasise their critical importance for India’s development trajectory.

What Use Do the Katchatheevu Islands Have for India?

Strategic Significance:

  • Geopolitical Location: The Palk Strait, which connects the Bay of Bengal with the Gulf of Mannar and the Indian Ocean, is home to Katchatheevu and is a key maritime route.
  • Security Concerns: India has strategic power in monitoring marine activity in the region, including vessel movements and possible security threats, thanks to its control over Katchatheevu.

Economic Importance:

  • Fishing Resources: Fish and other seafood are abundant in the waters surrounding Katchatheevu and are essential to the livelihoods of Tamil Nadu fisherman.
  • Commercial Potential: Having control over Katchatheevu could help the area’s economy expand by promoting the expansion of commercial industries including fishing, aquaculture, and tourism.

Significance in History and Culture:

  • Historical Claims: Fishermen from Tamil Nadu have long claimed traditional fishing rights at Katchatheevu, giving the location historical significance for India.
  • Cultural Ties: The island is connected to the mythical Tamil sage Thiruvalluvar, which gives it historical and cultural significance for the Tamil people in India and Sri Lanka.

Diplomatic and Legal Repercussions:

  • Diplomatic Relations: The Katchatheevu issue has consequences for India-Sri Lanka relations, frequently influencing bilateral discussions and negotiations on various matters, including fishing rights and maritime cooperation, even though the island was ceded to Sri Lanka through agreements in 1974 and 1976.
  • International Law: Concerning territorial sovereignty, marine boundaries, and the rights of coastal states, the Katchatheevu conflict raises more general issues regarding the application of international law.
  • Territorial seas: The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the area and the territorial seas of India are affected by Sri Lanka’s occupation of the island.

Humanitarian Aspects:

  • Human Rights Concerns: Sri Lanka’s restrictions on fishing at Katchatheevu have given rise to human rights issues, including incidents of Indian fishermen being arrested, harassed, and even killed.
  • Resolution Needed: In order to protect the welfare and safety of fishermen and their families, who rely on the waters for their subsistence, it is imperative that the Katchatheevu issue be addressed from a humanitarian standpoint.

Protection and Counter-Smuggling Measures:

  • Activities related to Smuggling: Because of its closeness to the Indian shore, Katchatheevu could serve as a hub for the smuggling of weapons, drugs, and other contraband.
  • Preventing Smuggling: India’s capacity to keep an eye on and suppress such activities in the region is affected by Sri Lanka’s possession of the island.
  • The usage of Katchatheevu for illegal operations such as smuggling that could endanger national security has alarmed India.
  • Due to its strategic location, impact on fishing rights, and cultural value, Katchatheevu Island, despite its tiny size, continues to be a contentious issue between India and Sri Lanka. The island’s transfer to Sri Lanka has strained bilateral relations and brought attention to the need for a comprehensive solution that addresses marine security, fishermen’s livelihood issues, and both countries’ historical feelings. For the region to be stable and cooperative, this long-standing conflict must be resolved via persistent communication, understanding, and creative resource-sharing arrangements.

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