Former Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa Monday criticised External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna over Katchatheevu, a small island ceded to Sri Lanka in 1974 and a source of recurring irritation in ties between the two countries.
In a statement here, the AIADMK leader accused the foreign minister was ignorant of the basic facts about the issue.
"In fact, gross ignorance of facts has been the basis on which Katchatheevu was gifted to Sri Lanka. The same ignorance seems to pervade the central government even today. The consequence of this would be nothing short of disaster for Tamil Nadu, more particularly the fishing community," Jayalalithaa said.
She said that Katchatheevu in the sea dividing India and Sri Lanka was a property of Raja of Ramanathapuram and was traditionally used by fishermen from both countries to rest, dry their nets and sort their catch.
On the island is a Catholic Church dedicated to St. Antony, the patron saint of the fishermen. It was built by Seenikuppan Padayachi of Rameswaram in the early part of the 20th Century.
Pilgrims from both Tamil Nadu and northern Sri Lanka used to visit the island every year at the end of March for a week-long religious festival, she said.
She said Krishna's reiteration that Katchatheevu belonged to Sri Lanka was a "callous" opinion when a case filed by the AIADMK was pending in the Supreme Court.
She blamed successive prime ministers, Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi included, of being ignorant about the basics about the issue.
Citing article 5 of the Katchatheevu transfer agreement, Jayalalithaa quotes then external affairs minister Swaran Singh's statement in parliament that Indian fishermen "...were free to fish even round about Katchatheevu and they could also use the island for drying their nets...
"However, the Sri Lankan government does not seem to subscribe to this interpretation, considering that over 600 fishermen from the Rameswaram coast have died due to firing by Sri Lankan Navy patrolling the seas near Katchatheevu," Jayalalithaa charged.
Referring to Krishna's statement that India would have to come to some understanding with Sri Lanka if Indian fishermen would like to fish there, she asked: "What sort of an understanding does Krishna plans to arrive at with Sri Lanka and when? How many more Tamil fishermen have to die before Krishna works out his understanding?
"The AIADMK feels that the gifting away of Katchatheevu was not only a mistake but also erroneous in law. It had been done without taking the fishing community of Tamil Nadu into confidence. It had been done without obtaining the clearance of parliament," Jayalalithaa said.