'PM Nehru Wanted To Give It Away': S Jaishankar As Katchatheevu Row Heats Up

Doubling down on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charge at Opposition over the Katchatheevu island row, External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar today said Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first Prime Minister, wanted to give away the island to Sri Lanka.

In 1974, the then Indira Gandhi government had accepted the island, about 1.6 km long and over 300 m wide, a Sri Lankan area under Indo-Sri Lankan maritime agreement. The issue has resurfaced after a media report based on a RTI reply received by Tamil Nadu BJP chief K Annamalai on the 1974 pact. In 1976, after the Tamil Nadu government was dismissed during the Emergency, another pact restricted fishermen of both countries from fishing in each other’s waters. The harassment of Tamil Nadu fishermen by Lankan authorities is a key issue in the state, and the BJP has raised this with an eye on the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.

Addressing the media, Dr Jaishankar today quoted former External Affairs Minister Swaran Singh’s 1974 address in Parliament. “I feel confident that the agreement demarcating the maritime boundary in the Palk Bay will be considered as fair, just and equitable to both countries. At the same time, I wish to remind the honourable members that in concluding this agreement, the rights of fishing, pilgrimage and navigation, which both sides have enjoyed in the past, have been fully safeguarded for the future,” he said, quoting the former minister.

In less than two years, Dr Jaishankar said, there was another agreement between India and Sri Lanka. “In this agreement, India proposed the following: with the establishment of the exclusive economic zones by the two countries, India and Sri Lanka will exercise sovereign rights over the living and non-living resources of their respective zones. The fishing vessels and fishermen of India shall not engage in fishing in the historic waters, the territorial sea and the exclusive zone of Sri Lanka,” he said.

“(In) 1974, assurance is given. By 1976, an agreement is concluded which gives away this assurance,” he said. The consequence, he said, is that 6,184 Indian fishermen have been detained in the last 20 years. In the same period, 1,175 Indian fishing vessels have been seized by Lankans, he added.

The Katchatheevu issue, he said, has been repeatedly raised in Parliament by various parties over the past five years. “In fact, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu has written to me numerous times. My record shows that I have replied to the current Chief Minister (MK Stalin) 21 times on this issue. This is not an issue which has suddenly surfaced. This is a live issue,” he said.


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