Expressing difficulties in accepting the demand for getting the Katchatheevu Island back from Sri Lanka, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told a bench led by Chief Justice of India R M Lodha that a war was the only option India would have to exercise if it wanted the Island now.
Katchatheevu was gone to Sri Lanka by an agreement in 1974. It was ceded and now acts as a boundary. How can it be taken back today If you want Katchatheevu back, you will have to go to war to get it back, said the AG.
The spontaneous response from Rohatgi came as counsel for deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha M Thambidurai of AIADMK and DMK MP A K S Vijayan tried to highlight the sufferings of fishermen from Tamil Nadu, who inadvertently strayed into the Island.
The counsel maintained that innocent fishermen were locked up in jail if they entered Katchatheevu and hence the Centre was being urged to try retrieve the Island.
They said more than 100 fishermen were still in captivity and that the central government must step up its efforts for release of those languishing in jails there.
However, the AG indicated that retrieval of Katchatheevu was not possible now. The NDA governments response is in line with the stand of the UPA-II.
Replying to separate petitions by Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi, the UPA had said the question of retrieval did not arise as no territory belonging to India was ceded nor sovereignty relinquished to Sri Lanka since the area in question was in dispute between British India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and that there was no agreed boundary.
By an agreement in 1974, the dispute relating to the status of the Island was settled and it was declared to be Sri Lankan territory.
Petitions filed jointly by AIADMK and DMK MPs had sought protection for the fishermen while also stating that the government must take initiative through diplomatic channel for their release.
On Tuesday, the bench said it was for the central government to engage with the foreign authorities on the issue and judicial directives could not be issued. Rohatgi also said Vijayan, being the deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha, was in a better position to deliberate with the External Affairs Minister and others to raise all pertinent points.
The bench disposed of the petition after recording the AGs statement that whenever a fresh representation shall be moved by Vijayan and others relating to the difficulties being faced by the fishermen, the government would consider it appropriately.