Alleging continued killing and harassment of Indian fishermen by Sri Lankan Navy,Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa today urged the Supreme Court to expeditiously hear its petition challenging the Centre’s 1974 decision to cede Kachatheevu Island to the island nation.
“It is therefore just and necessary that the instant writ petition is heard at an early date. Grave prejudice and irreparable loss and hardship would continue to be caused to the fisher folk of Tamil Nadu whose lives and liberty to carry on their occupation are in danger with every passing day,” she said in her application through counsel Srikala Gurukrishna Kumar.
Under an agreement reached on June 26,1974,between the two countries,India agreed to cede its rights on Kachatheevu Island to Sri Lanka. By another agreement,India also agreed to cede its fishing rights in the island area.
On January 5,2009,the apex court had issued notice to the Centre on Jayalalithaa’s petition challenging the two agreements “as unconstitutional and non-est” and had sought a direction to ensure all measures to protect the life and livelihood of the Indian fishermen carrying on fishing activity around Kachatheevu.
In its fresh application,the state government said a large number of fishermen from Tamil Nadu had been killed or caught by the Lankan Navy while they were fishing in the area.
Jayalalithaa claimed that she had also written as many as 11 letters to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the AIADMK assumed power in May 2011.
Kachatheevu was a small barren uninhabited island of an extent of 285 acres in the Palk Strait off Rameswaram,a part of Ramanathapuram district,before it was ceded,Jayalalithaa said and complained that the Centre did not consult the State before ceding it to Sri Lanka.
“A large number of fishermen have been killed by the Sri Lankan Navy in this area. Several hundreds have been arrested for no reason whatsoever and have suffered in Sri Lankan jails.
“Crores of rupees worth high value catch made by the poor fishermen after hours of toil have been destroyed along with boats and equipment including fishing nets,” the application said.
According to Jayalalithaa,Indian fishermen were enjoying traditional fishing rights in and around the island of Kachatheevu prior to the execution of the 1974 agreement.
“The 1974 Agreement between India and Sri Lanka was signed without consulting the government of Tamil Nadu. In this agreement,the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) between the two countries in Palk Bay was purported to be fixed by latitudes and longitudes resulting in Kachatheevu falling on the Sri Lankan side.
“The bartering away of the island Kachatheevu to Sri Lanka as per the above 1974 Agreement is the main reason for the continued harassments and attacks on Tamil Nadu fishermen till date,the application said claiming that there were 38 incidents of attacks or detention of as many as 379 fishermen since May 2011.
“That the retrieval of Kachatheevu and restoration of the traditional fishing rights of Tamil Nadu (Palk Bay Fishermen) are of utmost importance.
“Pertinently,the Union of India even while purporting to erroneously justify the constitutional validity of the impugned agreements has acknowledged the problem faced by the Indian fishermen so much so that it has admitted that according to information available,72 Indian fishermen are reported or alleged to have been killed and 16 Indians are missing or presumed dead in such incidents,” the application added.