In a decision which is likely to further strain the ties between the UPA and the DMK, the Centre has informed the Supreme Court that Kachatheevu could not be retrieved from Sri Lanka as demanded by the party president, M. Karunanidhi.
In its response to Mr. Karunanidhi’s writ petition seeking retrieval of the island from Sri Lanka, the Centre said: “The question of retrieval… did not arise as no territory belonging to India was ceded, nor sovereignty relinquished, to Sri Lanka.”
The petition comes up for hearing on Wednesday.
The Centre said the island was a matter of dispute between British India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and there was no agreed boundary. The dispute on the status of the island was settled in 1974 by an agreement, and both countries took into account historical evidence and legal aspects. This position was reiterated in the 1976 agreement.
It said: “No territory belonging to India was ceded nor sovereignty relinquished since the area was in dispute and had never been demarcated.” Therefore Mr. Karunanidhi’s contention that Kachatheevu was ceded to Sri Lanka was “not correct and contrary to official records.” The Centre took exception to his filing the petition so long after the 1976 agreement and said it did not espouse any public cause.
Under the two agreements, the Centre said, no fishing rights in Sri Lankan waters were bestowed on Indian fishermen. “Indian fishermen and pilgrims will enjoy access to Kachatheevu and will not be required by Sri Lanka to obtain travel documents or visas. The right of access is not to be understood to cover fishing rights around the island to Indian fishermen.”
In a similar petition filed by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, the Centre had said the island was never ceded to Sri Lanka.
In his petition, Mr. Karunanidhi said: “The agreement is ex-facie unconstitutional for want of a constitutional amendment under Article 368 and being inconsistent with the law declared by the Supreme Court in the Berubari case, and this agreement is liable to be declared non est , void and unconstitutional.”
Rejecting this contention, the Centre said the agreements did not require a constitutional amendment as no territory was ceded. However, these agreements were placed in Parliament and ratified.
“Thus, as far as the Government of India is concerned, the issue of maritime boundary between India and Sri Lanka, and consequently that of sovereignty over Katchatheevu, is a settled matter,” it said.(The Hindu)