Daily Answer Writing for UPSC –22nd August 2023

Question: Analyze the Katchatheevu controversy and its implications on India-Sri Lanka relations.


GS 2|| International relations

Katchatheevu is a small uninhabited island in Palk Strait, that connects the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea. It is a disputed territory between Sri Lanka and India, claimed until 1976 by India, and administered by Sri Lanka at the moment.

The controversy stems from a bilateral agreement in 1974 and subsequent agreements that assigned Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka, based on negotiations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). However, the issue became contentious due to traditional access rights of Tamil Nadu fishermen and the presence of religious landmarks, including St. Anthony’s Church. The absence of specific provisions for Indian fishermen in the 1976 agreement led to concerns about their traditional access to the waters around Katchatheevu.

Implications for India-Sri Lanka relations:

  • Fishermen’s Issues: The arrest and harassment of Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy in the region has led to tensions and conflicts, affecting bilateral relations.
  • Ethnic and Political Dynamics: It has been utilized by political parties and leaders for domestic political gain, impacting bilateral ties and complicating diplomatic efforts.
  • Religious and Cultural Sensitivities: Incidents such as the installation of a Buddha statue have the potential to stoke religious tensions and affect bilateral relations.
  • Security Concerns: The area has witnessed smuggling, illegal migration, and concerns about maritime security, affecting bilateral cooperation in this realm.
  • Maritime Boundary Disputes: The controversy highlights the complexities of demarcating maritime borders and the potential for conflicts in shared waters.

The Katchatheevu controversy showcases the intricate interplay of historical, political, religious, and economic factors in maritime boundary disputes. Its implications extend beyond bilateral relations between India and Sri Lanka to the broader context of regional diplomacy and cooperation. Resolving this issue requires a balanced approach that takes into account the concerns of both nations, the rights of fishermen, and the broader principles of international law and diplomatic engagement.

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