Katchatheevu island issue: India got Wadge Bank… agreement in good faith, say former diplomats

android, katchatheevu island issue: india got wadge bank… agreement in good faith, say former diplomats

Katchatheevu island issue: India got Wadge Bank… agreement in good faith, say former diplomats

There is a sense of disquiet in Colombo and Delhi, as the BJP has raised the issue of Katchatheevu island in the last few days.  The Indian Express spoke to former Sri Lankan and Indian diplomats, who echoed that the government of the day at that time in 1970s had concluded the agreement “in good faith”, where both sides had “won some” and “lost some”.  A former Sri Lankan diplomat said that both Colombo and Delhi had taken the whole gamut of strategic bilateral ties between the two countries, as they negotiated the pact.

“It was a give and take, based on the realities of that time. And the objective was to settle the maritime boundary… it was done in good faith that the two countries would want to settle the claims, and move on,” a former Sri Lankan diplomat, who served in Delhi, told The Indian Express on condition of anonymity.

Indian diplomats, who have dealt with Sri Lanka in the past, underlined that Delhi was able to get access to Wadge Bank and its rich resources. Former Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Ashok Kantha, said, “The agreement of June 1974 on the boundary in historic waters between India and Sri Lanka placed Katchatheevu on the Sri Lankan side but it also paved the way for a series of other pacts clarifying and confirming the maritime boundary with Sri Lanka, including the understanding of March 1976 which recognised India’s sovereignty over the Wadge Bank and its rich resources.”

Read Also | Did Congress ‘give away’ Katchatheevu island to Sri Lanka?

“As a former negotiator, one can say that these complex negotiations involve give and take. You will not get everything. But the settlement of the contentious maritime boundary issue with Sri Lanka put the relationship on a stronger footing and also provided clarity on fishing activities, exploitation of hydrocarbon resources and other rights. Hence, there has been continuity and consistency in the position of the Government of India on the agreements reached with Sri Lanka in 1974 and 1976. No government has sought to question or reopen those understandings which have served us well,” Kantha said.

The India-Sri Lanka agreement of 1976 recognised the Wadge Bank as part of India’s exclusive economic zone, granting India sovereign rights over the area and its resources. The Wadge Bank, located south of Kanyakumari, is a resource-rich submarine plateau. Under the agreement, signed on March 23, 1976, Sri Lankan fishing vessels and personnel were not allowed to engage in fishing activities in the Wadge Bank. However, as a gesture of goodwill, India permitted a limited number of Sri Lankan fishing vessels, licensed by India, to fish in the area for a period of three years from the establishment of India’s exclusive economic zone.

After this period, Sri Lankan vessels ceased to fish in the Wadge Bank. This agreement is generally viewed as favourable for India, as it secured sovereign rights to a significant maritime area rich in biodiversity and considered one of India’s richest fishery resources.

A former Indian diplomat said that the agreements signed between countries are “sovereign decisions” taken by the State, taking into account the “realities on the ground”. “The issue of fishermen being caught and detained doesn’t happen so much near Katchatheevu, it happens elsewhere. So conflating the two issues is not correct,” he said.

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