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Katchatheevu Island | Wadge Bank

  • Context (IE I TH I TNM): In the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP and Prime Minister raised the issue of ‘ceding’ Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka in 1974.
  • India and Sri Lanka had been claiming Katchatheevu since at least 1921 after a survey placed the island within Sri Lanka’s boundaries.
  • In 1974, the two governments signed an agreement and the island was ceded to Sri Lanka.
  • After the emergency was imposed in 1975, discussions took place between the foreign secretaries of India and Sri Lanka, and a set of executive orders was issued on the Katchatheevu issue.
  • The negotiations settled the maritime boundary between India and Sri Lanka, and Sri Lanka gave India sovereign rights over a maritime patch called ‘Wadge Bank’ near Kanyakumari in 1976.

Katchatheevu Island

History of the Island and How it Became an Issue for Indo-Sri Lankan Relations

History of the Katchatheevu Island

  • Katchatheevu is an uninhabited speck between India and Sri Lanka in the Palk Strait.
  • It is of relatively new geological origin, being the product of a 14th-century volcanic eruption.
  • It lies northeast of Rameswaram, about 33 km from the Indian coast.
  • Only structure on the island is an early 20th-century Catholic shrine, St Anthony’s church. Devotees from both India and Sri Lanka make the pilgrimage there.
  • Katchatheevu is not suited for permanent settlement as there is no source of drinking water.

National Emergency in India 1975

  • Originally under Article 352, a National emergency could be declared on the basis of “external aggression or war” and “internal disturbance” in the whole of India or a part of its territory.
  • National Emergency of 1975 was declared on the grounds of internal disturbance.
  • But after the 44th amendment act (1978), National Emergency can only be declared on grounds of:
  • “External aggression or war”, also called External Emergency
  • Armed rebellion“, also called Internal Emergency.

Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs)

  • EEZ extends up to 200 nm from the coastal state’s baseline.
  • Within this zone, the coastal state has special rights and jurisdiction over the exploration and exploitation of natural resources, both living and non-living, in the water, as well as the seabed and subsoil.
  • Other states enjoy freedoms such as navigation and overflight, as well as the right to lay submarine cables and pipelines.

Sri Lankan Civil War

  • Sri Lankan Civil War was an armed conflict that lasted for around 26 years (from 1983 to 2009) between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
  • LTTE was a separatist militant organization primarily composed of Tamil nationalists.
  • The LTTE (or Tamil Tigers) was founded in the 1970s with the aim of establishing an independent Tamil state called Tamil Eelam in the north and east of Sri Lanka.
  • The conflict had its roots in long-standing ethnic and political tensions between the majority Sinhalese population and the minority Tamil population in Sri Lanka.

What is Tamil Nadu’s Position on Katchatheevu?

  • Katchatheevu was given away to Sri Lanka in 1974 without consulting Tamil Nadu state assembly.
  • There were protests against PM Indira Gandhi’s move, citing two reasons:
  1. The historical control of the Ramnad Zamindari over the island.
  2. Traditional fishing rights of Indian Tamil fishermen.
    • In 1991, in the aftermath of India’s disastrous intervention in the Sri Lankan Civil War, the Tamil Nadu Assembly sought retrieval of Katchatheevu.
    • In 2008, then AIADMK supremo, the late J Jayalalitha, filed a petition in court saying Katchatheevu could not be ceded to another country without a constitutional amendment.
    • However, GoI’s position has largely remained unchanged. It argued that since the island had always been under dispute, “no territory belonging to India was ceded nor sovereignty relinquished.”

How Indian Territory of India can be Ceded? (GS 1, Polity)

  • In Berubari Union Case (1960), Supreme Court established that Indian territory can be ceded to a foreign state only by amending the Constitution under Article 368.
  • The Supreme Court held that the power of Parliament to diminish the area of a state (under Article 3) does not cover the cession of Indian territory to a foreign country.
Berubari Union Case (1960)
  • The Berubari Union Case was a dispute between India and Pakistan over the possession of the Berubari Union, a small area located in West Bengal.
  • The dispute was resolved through the Nehru-Noon Agreement of 1958, which provided for the division of the Berubari Union between India and Pakistan.
  • But the Supreme Court ruled against the GoI and stated that a constitutional amendment under Article 368 is required to cede territory to a foreign country.
  • Consequently, the 9th Constitutional Amendment Act (1960) was enacted to transfer the territory to Pakistan.

Wadge Bank

  • 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.
  • It is a continental shelf nearly 80 kilometres (50 miles) seaward from the coast of Kanyakumari.
  • The Fishery Survey of India has identified the Wadge Bank as a 4,000-sq-mile area bound by 76°.30’ E to 78°.00 E longitude and 7°.00 N to 8° 20’ N latitude.
  • Under the agreement, Sri Lankan fishing vessels and personnel were not allowed to engage in fishing activities in the Wadge Bank.
  • The agreement allowed Indian fishermen to use the resources in the Wadge Bank area.
  • It is a shallow zone with a nearly flat bottom topography and a continental shelf.
  • In late 2023, GoI invited Notice Inviting Offers (NIO) under the Hydrocarbon Exploration and Licensing Policy (HELP) for the exploration of oil in Wadge Bank.
  • However, residents of the area objected to it, highlighting the area’s importance to fishing communities in Kanyakumari.

Katchatheevu map.

Fertile fishing ground

  • The bank is rich in biodiversity and a fertile fishing ground. The area around Wadge Bank records the highest organic production on the West Coast.
  • It is one of the world’s richest fishing grounds and is in a much more strategic part of the sea than the island of Katchatheevu.
  • The low intensity of currents, waves, and tides makes it an ideal location for the accumulation of nutrients and fish food and has less impact on the fish and aquatic animals of this region.
  • The Wadge Bank waters are moderate in temperature (26˚-29˚C) but high in salinity ( 35.8 to 36.7% ), supporting many fishery resources.
  • This ground’s peak season is from July to October. Upwelling has been reported during the July-September period.
  • Fishes prefer this region for feeding and breeding purposes.


  • A bank is an elevation of the seafloor located on the continental shelf, over which the water depth is relatively shallow.
  • These features are of continental origin and can cover extensive surface area but do not extend thousands of meters into the water column.
  • Banks have summits less than 200 m (650 feet) below the surface, but they are not so high as to endanger navigation.
  • Banks whose tops rise close enough to the sea surface to be hazardous to shipping are called shoals.
  • Somewhat like continental slopes, ocean bank slopes can upwell as tidal and other flows intercept them, sometimes resulting in nutrient-rich currents.

What are Hydrocarbons?

  • Hydrocarbons are organic compounds made up of hydrogen and carbon atoms.
  • They are the fundamental constituents of fossil fuels, including coal, natural gas, and petroleum.
  • Hydrocarbon exploration refers to the process of searching for and identifying potential sources of hydrocarbons, such as oil and natural gas, beneath the Earth’s surface.
Government initiatives for hydrocarbon exploration in India
  • The Hydrocarbon Exploration and Licensing Policy (HELP) was adopted in 2016.
  • Objective: To enhance domestic oil and gas production by intensifying exploration activity and investment.
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