Chennai: The Centre on Thursday informed the Madras High Court that the sovereignty of Sri Lanka over the islet of Katchatheevu in the Palk Straits is a settled matter and Indian fishermen do not enjoy any right to fish in the region.
The Indian fishermen can have access to the islet only to dry their nets or for the purpose of pilgrimage, Union External Affairs and Defence Secretaries said in their counter to a PIL seeking retrieval of the islet, ceded to Sri Lanka by India through agreement in 1974.
The claim by Fishermen Care President L A Peter Rayan in the PIL that the agreement guaranteed Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen their traditional rights of fishing in each other`s waters was "baseless and untenable", it said.
"The issue of maritime boundary between India and Sri Lanka and consequently that of the sovereignty over the Katchatheevu island is a settled issue," the counter said.
It said under 1974 and subsequent 1976 agreements the traditional rights allowed "are access for our fishermen and pilgrims to visit Katchatheevu for drying nets, resting and participating in the annual St Antony festival there. The right of access is not understood to cover fishing rights around the island to Indian fishermen."
Rejecting the contention of the petitioner that it was a case of ceding of an Indian territory to another country and it required Parliament`s nod, the Centre said the 1974 pact only demarcated boundary between the two countries from Palk Strait to Adam`s Bridge and clarified certain issues handed down "unresolved and undetermined from the Colonial period."
However, the agreement of 1976 determined maritime boundary between India and Sri Lanka in the Gulf of Mannar and the Bay of Bengal.
These agreements were placed before the Parliament and they came into effect following due process of ratification and exchange of instruments of ratification between the two countries, said the counter.
First bench comprising Chief Justice R K Agrawal and Justice K Ravichandrabaabu, before which the matter came up for hearing, adjourned the matter to January 27.
The counter is consistent with the stand taken by the Centre before the Supreme Court last year in response to a petition by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa seeking retrieval of Katchatheevu.