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Indira Gandhi and Katchatheevu Island

How Indira Gandhi gave away Katchatheevu island to Sri Lanka

Katchatheevu, a tiny uninhabited island spanning 285 acres in the Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka, is spread over 1.6 km in length and slightly over 300 m wide at its widest point.

Situated northeast of Rameswaram, approximately 33 km from the Indian coast, it lies around 62 km southwest of Jaffna, Sri Lanka’s northernmost point, and is about 24 km from the populated Delft Island, which is part of Sri Lanka.


As per reports, Sri Lanka asserted its sovereignty over Katchatheevu by citing the Portuguese occupation of the island from 1505 to 1658 CE as evidence of jurisdiction. India, on the other hand, argued that the former Raja of Ramnad (Ramanathapuram) held possession of it as part of his estate.

According to a report in The Hindu dated March 6, 1968, which featured an interview with the former Raja Ramanatha Sethupathi, Katchatheevu had been under the jurisdiction of the estate “since time immemorial” and served as the “last outpost” of the Ramnad Estate.

The report stated that the former Raja mentioned that taxes were collected by the estate until 1947 when the State government took over following the Zamindari Abolition Act. However, during a debate in the Lok Sabha in July 1974, then External Affairs Minister Swaran Singh stated that the decision regarding Kachatheevu had been made after thorough research of historical and other records pertaining to the island.


A report by Times of India stated that according to an RTI reply obtained by Tamil Nadu’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief K Annamalai, the Indira Gandhi government in 1974 handed over Katchatheevu island, located in the Palk Strait, to Sri Lanka.