Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. K. Stalin welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Tamil Nadu on 26 May, and reiterated that only by restoring India’s sovereignty over Katchativu will a permanent solution to their fishermen’s issue in Sri Lanka be possible.
Prime Minister Modi was in Tamil Nadu to launch development initiatives in Chennai, when Chief Minister made this request.
Also, Tamil Nadu President of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) K. Annamalai, who recently visited Sri Lanka addressed a gathering in Chennai on 18 May where he stated that the Indian government has already requested the Sri Lankan government to allow Indian fishermen to fish around Kachchativu. Speaking at a meeting, he added that while India gifted the island to Sri Lanka, there was a clause that allowed Indian fishermen to fish around the island; however, that clause was later removed, he told the audience.
He also claimed that traditional south Indian fishermen had been fishing around this island and are now ‘barred,’ so that clause should be removed to allow them to fish as well. He stated that this is the only way to resolve the fishermen’s dispute. However, Annamalai did not lobby India to take the island back from Sri Lanka.
Also when Stalin visited New Delhi to meet Modi on 1 April 2022, there too he mentioned about retrieving Kachchativu. He submitted a memorandum to Modi consisting 14 demands on various issues including retrieving Katchativu, among many other domestic demands.
At that time Stalin requested the Centre to advise the Sri Lankan government to ensure equal political and civil rights to the Eelam Tamils. He said due to the ongoing economic crisis in the island nation, many Sri Lankan Tamils are fleeing to Tamil Nadu by sea.
“Recently, 16 Sri Lankans reached the shores of Tamil Nadu. They embarked on the perilous journey due to unaffordable essential commodities in Sri Lanka. In a bid to protect the traditional fishing rights of the Indian fishermen in the Palk Bay and to ensure their safety and security, Stalin asked the Centre to address the Sri Lankan government to end the arrest and apprehension of fishermen.
In the memorandum, it was noted that Tamil Nadu fishermen are often arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy while fishing in their traditional waters in the pretext of crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line.
“During the past 11 years, 3,690 fishermen were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy and 3,644 fishermen were released and repatriated to Tamil Nadu. The remaining 46 fishermen were released recently and are yet to be repatriated,” Stalin noted.
He said it is imperative to continue the Joint Working Group (JWG) meetings and also the fishermen level talks between the fishermen of the two countries, which has not been held since 2016.
Northern Tamils of Sri Lanka have been demanding the Indian fishermen to keep away from their livelihood and not to fish using bottom trawlers. The clash between the fishermen of Tamil Nadu and northern fishermen of Sri Lanka erupted after the war ended in 2009 and gradually it turned out to be a diplomatic dispute between India and Sri Lanka where both governments have been trying to solve the issue.
By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan