Government gets notice on plea to retrieve Kachchatheevu island

January 5th, 2009 - 6:09 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 5 (IANS) The Supreme Court Monday issued notice to the government on a plea of former Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalitha to retrieve a 285-acre island in the Palk Strait off Rameshwaram from Sri Lanka.A bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice Markandey Katju and Justice P. Sathasivam issued the notice on the AIADMK chief’s plea that the late prime minister Indira Gandhi had ceded the Kachchatheevu island to Sri Lanka in 1974 without suitably amending the constitution.

Appearing for Jayalalitha, senior counsel Harish Salve contended that the government was, in fact, yet to amend the constitution which is mandatory for effecting any change in the area of the Indian territory.

In her lawsuit, filed through counsel Srikala Guru Krishnakumar last August, Jayalalitha has also sought the court’s direction to the government to restore the rights of the fishermen to visit the island with their vessels for fishing and earning their livelihood.

In her lawsuit, Jayalalitha said Kachchatheevu, a small barren island in the Palk Strait, “was historically the part of Raja of Ramnad jamindari (landholding) and after the abolition of jamindari system in 1948, it became the part of Madras presidency”.

But the Indian government, acceding to an unjustified Sri Lankan territorial claim over the island being made since 1921, ceded it to the southern neighbour under an India-Sri Lanka maritime agreement in 1974 without the mandatory constitutional amendment, added Jayalalitha, who is Leader of Opposition in the Tamil Nadu assembly.

She said the island was used by the fishermen of both countries to dry their nets, to rest and to pray in St. Antony’s Church, built on the island by an Indian fisherman of Ramnad.

Stating that the fishermen from both sides undertook fishing in the waters around the island without any animosity, Jayalalitha said the island was of “strategic importance and special significance” for fishing operations in the area.

She said in her petition that despite consistent protests by locals and their representatives on the floor of parliament, the Indian government ceded the island to Sri Lanka through 1974 agreement, which remains unratified by parliament till date.

She added that the government even surrendered the rights of the fishermen to Sri Lanka in 1976, depriving livelihood to a large population of fishermen from Ramanathapuram district of Tamil Nadu.

She added that due to the Sri Lankan navy’s “hostile attitude”, the fishermen fear to go fishing near the island and have been deprived of their sole source of income.

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