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Chennai wants Katchatheevu back from Lanka – DNA

[MISC, Friday, 19 June 2009 08:27 No Comment]

Katchatheevu, a 275-acre, uninhabited islet on the Palk Strait between Sri Lanka and India, is becoming the next big issue in Tamil Nadu politics with the Opposition parties demanding a resolution in the state assembly to press New Delhi to retrieve the island from Sri Lanka. Then PM Indira Gandhi had handed over the island to Sri Lanka in 1974.

The politicians are aghast at reports of Sri Lankan army personnel attacking Indian fishermen in the island. The fishermen frequent the region because of the big catch. They sometimes use the island to dry their net.

Replying to the opposition demand on Thursday, chief minister M Karunanidhi said he was willing to move a resolution provided all parties gave their unconditional support. "Leaders of many parties have expressed their desire that India should retrieve Katchatheevu from Sri Lanka. I’m willing to move a resolution to this effect in the assembly if all parties, including opposition parties, are willing to provide unilateral support. The DMK has always strongly opposed India’s move of handing over the islet to Lanka."

Karunanidhi had on Tuesday written to prime minister Manmohan Singh, drawing his attention to Sri Lanka’s proposal to set up a military base in Katchatheevu.

Fishermen from Tamil Nadu, especially in the Rameshwaram region, often get into trouble with Sri Lankan navy personnel.

In a recent incident, fishermen complained of an attack by the Sri Lankan navy in which a fishing boat split into two. Other boats rescued the fishermen but they complained that a Sri Lankan warship was permanently based near Katchatheevu, creating problems for them. The fishermen conceded that at times they crossed the International Maritime Border Line in search of a bigger fish.

The island has a Catholic shrine that attracts devotees from both countries. But the Sri Lankan government banned Indians from worshipping there, following intensification of the war against the LTTE. Though Sri Lanka claims it has destroyed the LTTE and the war has ended, Indian fishermen still complain of harassment by the Sri Lankan navy.

Some Rameshwaram fishermen, however, say that more than the better catch, it is the huge haul of conches of different sizes and shapes that draws Indian fishermen there.

"Some of the big conches command a huge premium of Rs2 lakh per piece. It is mostly bought by people in Kerala. In fact, the deal is done on the shores the moment the fishermen reach Indian soil," a fisherman told DNA.

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