Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

Katchatheevu Island Conundrum


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Katchatheevu Island

Mains level: NA

Why in the news?

Prime Minister recently claimed that the then PM Indira Gandhi had given away the island of Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka for no reason.

About Katchatheevu Island

  • Katchatheevu is a small, uninhabited island measuring merely 285 acres, lying between India and Sri Lanka.
  • It is situated in the Palk Strait.
  • It was originally owned by the king of Ramnad (present-day Ramanathapuram, Tamil Nadu).
  • The island is used by fishermen to dry their nets.
  • Despite its modest size, the island holds significant religious significance, housing Anthony’s church, a centuries-old Catholic shrine revered by devotees from both nations.
  • Beyond its religious connotations, Katchatheevu is a vital ecosystem, supporting diverse flora and fauna endemic to the region’s maritime environment.

A Quick Recap of its History

  • During the British rule, it was administered jointly by India and Sri Lanka.
  • In the early 20th century, Sri Lanka claimed territorial ownership over the islet.
  • India ceded the island to Sri Lanka, through a joint agreement in 1974; India further gave up its fishing rights in the region in 1976.

Present Issue

  • In 1974 and 1976 treaties were signed between the two countries to demarcate the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL).
  • However, the agreement could not stop the fishermen from fishing in these waters, as fishermen know no boundary.

Culmination of the Political Dispute

  • Unresolved Issue: While Indian fishermen retained certain access rights to the island, the agreements failed to address key concerns regarding fishing rights, leading to simmering discontent among fishing communities.
  • Sri Lankan Atrocities: The civil war in Sri Lanka overshadowed the Katchatheevu issue, with Indian fishermen facing arrests and allegations of mistreatment by the Sri Lankan navy.
  • Renewed Demands: Instances of fishermen’s rights violations reignited calls for the retrieval of Katchatheevu by Tamil Nadu politicians, who highlighted the plight of affected fishing communities.
  • Present Backlash: The agreement sparked widespread protests and political backlash in Tamil Nadu, with regional parties and activists condemning the perceived abandonment of Indian sovereignty over Katchatheevu.


Consider the following statements:

1.    The value of Indo-Sri Lanka trade has consistently increased in the last decade.

2.    “Textile and textile articles” constitute an important item of trade between India and Bangladesh.

3.    In the last five years, Nepal has been the largest trading partner of India in South Asia.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct? (2020)

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 2 only

(c) 2 only

(d) 3 only


Practice MCQ:

With reference to the Katchatheevu Island recently seen in news, consider the following statements:

1.    During the British rule, it was administered by India.

2.    India ceded the island to Sri Lanka, through a joint agreement in 1974 but holds fishing rights in the region.

Which of the given statements is/are correct?

(a) Only 1

(b) Only 2

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

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