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Why Island of Katchatheevu in news?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his speech in the Parliament during the No Confidence debate on August 10, mentioned the island of Katchatheevu. Hitting out at Rahul Gandhi for his now expunged Bharat Mata remarks, PM Modi said it was the Indira Gandhi government which gave away Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka in 1974.

Where is the island of Katchatheevu?

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Katchatheevu is an uninhabited off-shore island in the Palk Strait. The island is located between Neduntheevu, Sri Lanka and Rameswaram, India. It was formed due to volcanic eruptions in the 14th century.

Administration and History

  • The 285-acre land was jointly administered by India and Sri Lanka during British rule.
  • The Raja of Ramnad (present-day Ramanathapuram, Tamil Nadu) owned Katchatheevu island and later became part of the Madras Presidency.
  • In 1921, both Sri Lanka and India claimed this piece of land for fishing and the dispute remained unsettled.
    After Indian independence, the country initiated to resolve the pre-independence territory dispute between Ceylon and the British.
    Today, the uninhabited island is administered by Sri Lanka.


Fishermen of both countries have been fishing in each other’s waters without conflict for a very long time. The issue emerged when both countries signed four Maritime Boundary Agreements between 1974-76. The agreement marked the international maritime boundary of India and Sri Lanka.

  • In 1974, then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi accepted Katchatheevu as Sri Lankan area under the “Indo-Sri Lankan Maritime Agreement” aimed at resolving the maritime boundaries in the Palk Strait.
  • Another agreement signed in 1976 restricted both the countries’ fishermen from fishing in the other’s exclusive economic zones.
  • The agreement aimed to facilitate resource management and law enforcement in the Palk Strait. Now, Indian fishermen were only allowed to use the island for resting, net drying and the annual St. Anthony’s festival.
  • They are not permitted to use the island for fishing. However, Indian fishermen continued trespassing the Sri Lankan water boundary, searching for better catch in the area.
  • The next few decades went well but the problem turned serious when fish and aquatic life in the Indian continental shelf depleted, which resulted in an increased number of Indian fishermen in the region. They are also using modern fishing trolleys which harm marine life and the ecosystem.

What is the agreement now?

In 1974, Indira Gandhi made attempts to settle the maritime border between India and Sri Lanka, once and for all.

As a part of this settlement, known as the ‘Indo-Sri Lankan Maritime agreement’, Indira Gandhi ‘ceded’ Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka. At the time, she thought the island had little strategic value and that ceasing India’s claim over the island would deepen its ties with its southern neighbour.

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