MonitorsPublished on Sep 14, 2018
South Asia Weekly Report | Vol. XI Issue 37


Sri Lanka: Has ‘Katchchativu case’ become infructuous now?

N Sathiya Moorthy With the deaths of former Tamil Nadu chief ministers Jayalalithaa Jayaraman (AIADMK, December 2016) and M Karunanidhi (DMK, August 2018), the sensitive ‘Katchchativu case’ before the Indian Supreme Court and contesting the IMBL agreement between the two national governments might have become infructuous, as for as their personal involvement is concerned. This does not mean that the case cannot be revived, but then fresh cases may have to be filed by other stake-holders, including their respective parties. For now, the Tamil Nadu Government as an impleader in Jayalalithaa's original petition also remains, but it needs to be taken forward, if it has to reach a final conclusion. This has come at an ‘inopportune’ moment for Indian fishers along the southern Tamil Nadu coast and Puducherry’s Karikkal enclave especially. Citing European Union (EU) mandate, Sri Lanka earlier this year increased by over 100 times the fine on foreign vessels to deter them from fishing in its water. At the early instance of TNA’s Tamil MP, M A Sumanthiran, followed up by the incumbent government, the Parliament approved amendments to the Foreign Fisheries Boats Regulation Act, 1979. Accordingly, foreign vessels violating Sri Lankan territorial waters have to pay a minimum fine of 4 million Sri Lankan Rupees and a maximum of 150 millions, based on the boats’ length, hence carrying capacity. The State Government, political parties and the fishing community in Tamil Nadu reacted strongly to the new Sri Lankan law, but to no avail. The subsequent arrests of Tamil Nadu fishers in Sri Lankan waters has meant that they have to spend longer time in prison, pending their court cases, which the host Government has often declined to withdraw, unlike in the past. In the meantime, the efforts of the Centre and the Tamil Nadu Governments for the Rameswaram fishers in particular to diversify to go in for deep-sea fishing has produced mixed results. The initiative was aimed at diversifying their produce-sources and variety. The Sri Lanka Navy’s mid-sea harassments and arrests, followed now by the stringent laws, added a new urgency for the governments and fishers in India to look at this alternative closely. The scope of deep-sea fishing is large, but the response has been modest until now. It is expected to pick up, with multiple pressures adding to the woes of the bottom-trawler owners along the coast. Bottom-trawling is banned under the law, so is the use of specific nets that are used in this form of fishing. These boats taking to coastal fishing has come in for massive protests from artisanal fishers, nearer home, leading to physical clashes, and loss of fishing for both, for days together.


India and Sri Lanka drew a mutually-agreed IMBL (International Maritime Border Line) under UNCLOS-I (UN Law of the Seas) through bilateral agreements in 1974 and 1976. The two sides did not follow the normal ‘median line’ principle while drawing the IMBL. This meant that Katchchativu islet fell on the Sri Lankan side of the IMBL. The two nations got the agreement promptly notified under UNCLOS-I. This remains irreversible unless either of the national Governments seeks to reopen the case. Despite political changes at the national-level over the past nearly three decades, New Delhi has reiterated its position that Katchchativu now belonged to Sri Lanka. Political parties and some academics in Tamil Nadu have often pointed to the removal of a clause in the 1974 agreement. Under this clause, Indian fishers could dry their nets on Katchchativu. This clause does not find a place in the 1976 accord. In recent times, the Sri Lankan side has argued that unlike in the past, the present-day nets were made of nylon, not cotton. Hence, there was no need to dry them. The implication is also that Indian fishers had only a ‘limited right’ to dry their nets on the islet, and there never ever was any right for them to fish in those waters, as was/is being argued by the Indian fishers and their backers. Jayalalithaa first agitated the issue before the Supreme Court in her ‘personal capacity’. Her AIADMK was in the Opposition at that time. Karunanidhi joined in later, after losing power, and through a separate petition. After Jayalalithaa’s return to power in 2011, the Tamil Nadu Government enjoined itself as a party to the case, and also took a line akin to hers. The argument by all three petitioners related to the constitutional provision empowering the Union of India to re-define the nation’s borders. The law empowers Parliament to alter international borders through a resolution, requiring only a simple majority. This was done. The Centre has continuously has said that the IMBL was never demarcated earlier. Hence, there was no question of alienating Indian territory, Parliament was told. What was done in 1974 was only to define and draw the IMBL for the first time ever. Both Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi argued in their SC petitions that there was enough evidence and records to show that Katchchativu belonged to India under the British Raj, and even earlier. Giving it away to Sri Lanka was ‘alienation’, and the Centre did not have the inherent powers to pledge ‘national sovereignty’ and ‘territorial integrity’.

Faith, as an issue

Larger questions are said to be involved in the IMBL demarcation. The bilateral decision and the UNCLOS notification have possibly ensured that the Palk Straits remains the ‘internal waters of sorts’ India and Sri Lanka, with no scope for third nations to claim ‘right to passage’ under the UNCLOS and other international laws. There is no scope for third-nation maritime/naval presence in these waters, as at present. As may be recalled, when India took up the now-litigated Sethusamudram Project, the US, for instance, declared that if the waters were to be opened for maritime traffic going beyond shipping, the American navy would seek to access it. The project was conceived as a cheaper alternative to the East-West-East coastal maritime traffic in India having to circumnavigating Sri Lanka. A security angle offered itself with talks of China coming to work on the Hambantota Port project in Sri Lanka’s south, facing the Indian maritime trade. Today, China is very much there, and as a 99-year-lessee to the Hambantota ‘real estate’. The alternative ‘American proposition/threat’ in the matter did not present itself as much serious as China’s possible and near-permanent presence when the Centre launched the Sethu project. If there were issues on either score, they have not been agitated in the ‘Sethusamduram case’, which is also before the Supreme Court for years now. There, it has been argued mostly on matters of religious faith, of the majority Hindu community in the country. Accordingly, sea-embedded rocks on the water are remnants of the ‘land-bridge’ that an ‘army of monkey’s (‘vanar sena’) laid for Lord Ram to cross over the mythological Lanka, to free his wife, Sita, back, from the rakshas ruler Ravanan, who had taken her away. Arguments before the Supreme Court for reviving the work on the Sethu project have centred on finding an alternate route-alignment to the one cleared by the Centre earlier. The court cannot be seen as going into security issues of geo-strategic importance which are in the exclusive purview of the Executive. Oftentimes, Governments at the Centre have kept it all a closely-guarded secret, and does not share all details with State Governments concerned or with Parliament. The reasons are obvious, justified and justifiable. Yet, the Centre may have to revisit the two cases and take positions that derive from common roots and concerns, where national security does not get compromised at any cost. At the same time, such propositions should not alienate the ‘sensitive Tamil sentiments’ in the southern State, more than already – that too in an ‘election year’, as it is now.
The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter

Myanmar: Following military crackdown, tourism bleeds

Sreeparna Banerjee Tourism, one of the most illustrious industries in Myanmar, has begun to suffer following the military crackdown on the Rohingyas last year. The crackdown on Rohingya Muslims and the renewed image of the country as a serial rights-abuser has started to take a toll on the tourism sector. The country is trying to hold its ground firm and is concentrating on developing and promoting the role of tourism amid challenges for the sector’s further sustainable development of quality. As of 31 March, when fiscal 2017-18 ended, there were 1,628 licensed hotels with 65,470 hotel rooms in Myanmar. A total of 2,676 tour agencies, 4,503 nation-wide tour guides and 3,449 regional tour guides have registered under the Directorate of Hotels and Tourism. Among the tour agencies, one is wholly foreign-owned while 41 firms are operating as joint ventures with local partners.

Encouraging eco-tourism

The country is striving to promote eco-tourism, cultural tourism and community-based tourism in resource-rich areas such as historical landscapes, rivers, lakes, beaches, islands and forests. Due to the fact that there are only a small number of foreign visitors entering the country in terms of eco-tourism, the authorities concerned have been planning to boost environmental conservation and eco-tourism awareness in resource-rich areas as the sustainable management of the natural environment plays the key role for development of eco-tourism. With participation by the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, the Government opened the Bago Yoma Eco-Resort last year in the central region, for better conservation of the nature and to create more job opportunities for the local people. At present, the nation has altogether implemented eco-tourism in 10 regions and states, including Yangon, Mandalay, Bago, Magway, Ayeyawassy, Taninthayi, Kachin, Chin, Mon and Shan. But to everyone’s concern, there has been a noticeable drop in tourist-arrivals from three regions, namely, North America, Western Europe and Oceania which have traditionally been Myanmar’s main source of high-paying tourists.  This has hit mainly the local tour operators, following  cancellations on booking. As a result, 50 SME tour companies have returned their licences to the ministry.

Rebound strategy

Tourist arrivals holding visa as of July 2018 is up by over 11,850 tourists compared to that of a similar period last year. Over 1.97 million tourists entered the country through border checkpoints in the first seven months of this year while two million tourists entered Myanmar through border check-points during the same time last year. Tachilek, a border between Myanmar and Thailand, hosted a total of 337,966 international visitors between April and mid-August this year. This has encouraged the government to formulate a rebound strategy whereby they have decided to attract its Asian neighbours to counter the fall in Western tourists. Myanmar has started granting free visa allowances to Chinese, South Korean and Japanese nationals in a bid to promote eco-tourism. In the month of August the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population announced that from 1 October onwards, holders of passports from China, Macau and Hong Kong would be eligible for US$50 visas on arrival at the Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw airports. Visa exemptions will also be given to passport holders of Japan and South Korea from 1 October 2018 to 30 September 2019 at every international gateway into the country. As a result, the number of Japanese visiting Myanmar is expected to double over the period from just over 100,000 in 2017. This approach also hopes to help the SME tour operators who suffered huge losses. Tourist sites like Shwe Oo Min Cave, a green tea factory, a coffee farm and a coffee mill in Pindaya and Ywangan townships covered by the zone as well as an elephant camp in Kalaw township in southern Shan state are being looked into by the government in order to promote tourism. The elephant camp has been promoted into a green business, generating job opportunity for elephant workers, turning the camp into a public vacation and education center, encouraging public involvement in the environmental conservation activities, promoting eco-tourism and protecting the elephants.

Scope for improvement

The country needs to focus on establishing a market with skilled labor, capital and investment in order to develop the tourism service business. At present, the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism is exerting efforts to collaborate with private sector in promoting the country's tourism sector for the development of levels of financial status, human resources and infrastructure. SMEs need to be taken into serious consideration. Though the new strategy is trying to help them, some of the potential Asia markets may not be in the hands of the local tour operators and are manoeuvred from the visitor country. This might be a concern for the ethnic business holders. Also there is a need for developing credible and affordable guest-houses or hostel options for budget tourists who are visiting Myanmar on their own. Visa-exemption might be a game changer but it will also be better if many countries can apply for a Myanmar visa online. There have been talks of establishing direct air links with Western countries, particularly those from Europe. But also other forms of connectivity in terms of roads, railways and water needs to be thought of and developed. Already, tourism stakeholders have provided their inputs through the revision and modification of 1993 Myanmar Tourism Law. They are currently awaiting approval from parliament; the new tourism law will be enacted later this year. Let’s wait and see how it shapes the future of tourism.
The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata Centre 

Country Reports


US hopes on peace

US Defence Secretary James Mattis arrived unannounced in Afghanistan to conduct a meeting with the US troops stationed in the country and meet senior Afghan officials. Issues such as peace talks with the Mattis opined that reconciliation seems more prospective than before with a concrete framework and open lines for mutual communication. It is in the US military agenda to convince the Taliban of the futility of war.

Operation curb insurgents

Recent reports from the 111th Division of the Afghan National Army states that an operation named Tufan-2 has been launched in the Khak Jabar district of Kabul to suppress the anti-government insurgents. Improvised explosive devices which had been planted by the militants have also been discovered and defused during the operation. This comes as the armed militants are presently aiming to expand their insurgent activities in the key provinces, districts and cities of Afghanistan including the capital city.

ISIS-K behind Kabul bombings

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Khurasan has recently claimed responsibility of the deadly terror attacks which took place in the Dasht Barchi district of Kabul and left scores of people dead. The first attack had been carried out by a suicide bomber named Sabir-al-Khurasani while the second attack had been carried out by a vehicle borne improvised explosive device. Meanwhile the Taliban has strongly condemned the attack on the ground that it had targeted ordinary civilians.


Khaleda tried in prison

The trial proceedings of the Zia Charitable Trust corruption case against jailed opposition Bangladesh nationalists Party (BNP) leader and former premier Khaleda Zia took place in the old Dhaka central jail, where she is lodged for her conviction in another corruption case. This was the first time that trial proceeding took place in the jail compound in place of special court.   Terming the present move as unconstitutional her party expressed doubts about the impartiality of the trial.

Revamping maritime safety

In a bid to strengthen the country’s maritime safety and to bring it to the international level, the government has undertaken a huge project to revamp the infrastructure. The project is likely to cost around Bangladeshi taka 500 crore. A total of seven coastal radio stations and lighthouses, including ‘Command and Control Centre’, will be constructed as part of the project.  The Korean government is jointly funding of the project. The project will help to maintain round the clock communication with ships, a requirement of international conventions of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

Border talks with India

The chiefs of the border organisations of India and Bangladesh met this week to discuss border cooperation. The meeting was the 47th  round of consultations among the highest officials of India’s Border Security Force (BSF) and  Border Guards of Bangladesh. The meeting held in Delhi reviewed the present level of coordination in the management of the border, which is prone to various illegal activities, including smuggling of narcotics, arms, fake currency, trafficking of humans etc. India and Bangladesh have signed a border cooperation plan and the level of cooperation between the two countries is considered to be one of the best in South Asia.


Poll charge against ex-NC chief

The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) on 5 September lodged a complaint against former National Council chairperson, Dasho Sonam Kinga, with the office of the media arbitrator. The DPT alleged that Kinga’s Facebook post on 31 August said that the 2008 elections was in violation of Rule 9.4 of Election Dispute Settlement Rules and Regulations. Kinga said that he has finished his book “Political Contests as Moral Battles”, a perspective on Bhutan’s democratic transition about 2008 elections.

Tax reforms promised

All the four political parties have promised to reform the tax system, which will require amendment of Revised Tax and Levies Act of Bhutan 2016.One of the changes Druk Phuensum Tshogpa  (DPT) and Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) have promised is to raise the lowest exemption limit on Personal Income Tax (PIT) from Nu 200,000 to Nu 300,000.The PIT exemption limit was last revised in 2016 from Nu 100,000 to Nu 200,000.


Rao opts for fresh polls

On the advice of Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, Governor E R L Narasimhan dissolved the State Assembly on 6 September, paving the way for early elections. The Assembly’s term was to come to an end in June 2019 and elections to both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh were due to be held along with the general elections. On the Governor’s advice, Rao and his council of ministers will now continue as care-taker government till the elections.

SC decriminalises ‘gay sex’

A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court Thursday, in four separate but concurring judgments, legalised same-sex relations between consenting adults. It termed the 2013 judgment constitutionally impermissible. The apex court was hearing a clutch of petitions challenging criminalisation of homosexuality. The five-judge bench was headed by Chief Justice of India DipakMisra and comprised Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra.

‘Comcasa’ signed with US

A military-information sharing pact, which will give India access to the US technology to keep an eye on China and the neighbourhood, was signed at the 2+2 bilateral summit, with officials saying that adequate safeguards have been put in place to ensure security interests. Among other things, it was decided to conduct a new tri-Services joint exercise on the eastern coast next year. Also, a new pact was signed for cooperation between the defence innovation organisations of the two nations.


It’s US coercion: Govt

The Foreign Ministry has accused the US of ‘intimidation and coercion’, after Washington threatened sanctions against Maldivian individuals involved in ‘human rights abuses’, describing the State Department’s “intervention as unhelpful, an act of intimidation and imposing undue influence” ahead the 23 September presidential polls. “On 23 September, the people of the Maldives should be allowed to cast their votes without any form of interference or intimidation,” the Foreign Ministry statement said. Earlier, the US said it was concerned about “continued democratic back-sliding in the Maldives”, ahead of the presidential polls.


Jap loans to SMEs

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) will plan to offer two-step loan of 11.5 billion yen (about Ks 151.6 billion) for next fiscal year 2018-2019. At the 9th day meeting of the seventh regular session of Second Pyidaungsu Hluttaw held on 22 February, 14.9 billion yen was approved for JICA SME two-step loan phase-2. The loan agreement was signed on 29 March. This month, 3 billion yen (about Ks36 billion) will be lent to the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) from respective regions and states through seven Participating Financial Institutions (PFIs).

Chamber plan on forex

The Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) has submitted a plan to the government for stabilizing the rising exchange rate. The four-point plan, submitted to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi during a recent meeting with local business leaders in Nay Pyi Taw, was outlined as promoting export sector, investment, import substitution and reducing reliance on the U.S. dollar. Suggestions also included reviewing the entire export supply chain, applying demand-based agricultural policy, earliest implementation of banks' support services towards export, providing tax incentives to potential export products, etc.


Chinese Alternative

As per the new agreement reached between the Chinese government and the government of Nepal, the Nepal-China transit and transport protocol has been finalised. This will now enable the small Himalayan nation to have access to the Chinese dry ports with better connectivity from the trade perspective. This will also help in reaching out to newer avenues of economic zones like Korea and Japan. This is invariably providing an alternative to the Indian points.

‘One door’ policy

In order to attract foreign investment, the Nepalese government is likely to introduce the one-door policy. This aspect has been announced by the Minister of Industry, Commerce and Supplies Matrika Prasad Yadav. The idea is to create a more conducive and stable environment for investing in the country that would in turn lead to a better economic condition that has been lagging behind. Inter-ministerial coordination has also been augmented.


No tension with army: PM

Addressing the nation on the nation’s 53rd Defence Day at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, the country’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan promised to revive meritocracy and the rule of law in the existing institutions, and emphasised the cause of nation-building. No civil-military tension exists at present and that the country is united in the desire to mitigate the problems which plagues the nation, he added.

Reinvigorating US ties

Recently the first in person meeting was held between Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan, Mr. Michael Pompeo, US Secretary of State and US military chief, Gen  Dunford. They agreed that it was time for both countries to rebuild mutual trust and start delivering their joint commitments. Relations had bittered between the two countries earlier this year when the Trump administration suspended US security assistance to Pakistan to coerce it into adopting the new US strategy for Afghanistan.

Chinese FM expected

The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is scheduled to arrive in Pakistan shortly for a three-day visit. Apart from talks, a joint press conference with the Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is also part of his itinerary. Talks are likely to prevail on bilateral relations, international and regional issues of mutual interest. Meanwhile Prime Minister Imran Khan has constituted a cabinet committee for periodic reviews of the work programme of all China-Pakistan Economic Corridor working groups.

Sri Lanka

No early polls: President

Ending speculation that the presidential polls could be advanced by a year, to January 2019, if he agreed to work with predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa, incumbent Maithiri Sirisena has said that his alone was the decisive voice in the matter, and he did not intend advancing the dates. Sirisena was reacting to some leaders in the Rajapaksa-centric SLPP-JO, who seemed to be laying down early polls, possibly as a pre-condition for merger of the two groups, rather than as a conclusive possibility. It is however unclear if Sirisena’s observations were limited to advancing the polls even while holding talks with the Rajapaksa camp, or if the latter too had been given up for good.



Opinion Pieces

Douglas Lute and Denis McDonough, “A Cheer for Trump’s Outreach to the Taliban”, The New York Times, 7 September 2018 Mujib Mashal, Fahim Abed and Fatima Faizi, “We Live Death: A Chronicler of Afghan Loss Is Killed on Live TV”, The New York Times, 6 September 2018 Wenxian Zha, Youhong Lin and Aijiao liu, “Why Should China Deepen its Cooperation with Afghanistan?”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 3 September 2018


Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Kabul Air Pollution: Causes and Socio-Economic Costs”, 6 September 2018 Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Public Transportation in Kabul: A Challenge That Calls For Urgent Attention of the Government”, 5 September 2018 Afghanistan Times, “Haqqani’s terrorist legacy”, 4 September 2018


Opinion Pieces

Mir Aftabuddin Ahmed, “What’s next for Khaleda Zia?”, Dhaka Tribune, 1 September 2018 Anupam Debashis Roy, “Reformism is the only way forward for the opposition”, Dhaka Tribune, 4 September 2018


Opinion Pieces

Sonam Tshering, “Balancing the right to vote and being apolitical”, Kuensel, 1 September 2018


Opinion Pieces

Kaushik Basu, “Why so many Indian laws look good on paper but languish in real life”, The Print, 6 September 2018
  1. Raja Mohan, ”Where interests meet”, The Indian Express, 5 September 2018


Opinion Pieces

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Positing the voter in a two-horse race”,, 4 September 2018


Omkar Khandekar, “Ex-election chief laments state of Maldives election body”, Maldives Independent, 3 September 2018


Opinion Pieces

Bo Kyi, “The Need to Improve Prison Reform”, The Irrawaddy, 5 September 2018 Kyaw Zwa Moe, “On the Wrong Side of the Law, but On the Right Side of Truth”, The Irrawaddy, 3 September 2018 Ashley South, “Ways Ahead in the Peace Process?”, The Irrawaddy, 3 September 2018 Aung Zaw, “Facebook Bans Deepen Mutual Distrust Between Military, Government”, The Irrawaddy, 31 August 2018


Opinion Pieces

Mahabir Paudyal, “When the government fails”, Republica, 6 September 2018 Hari Prasad Shrestha, “Untangling the trade deficit”, The Kathmandu Post, 7 September 2018 Narendra B Rawal, “BIMSTEC war games”, The Kathmandu Post, 5 September 2018


The Kathmandu Post, “Empty seats”, 6 September 2018 Republica, “Abdication of duty: 15 laws yet to be enacted”, 5 September 2018 Republica, “Right to vote for Nepalis living abroad”, 4 September 2018


Opinion Pieces

Pervez Tahir, “Going after USC — again!”, The Express Tribune, 7 September 2018 Tasneem Noorani, “Punjab Speed”, Dawn, 6 September 2018 Khurram Husain, “The new Camelot”, Dawn, 6 September 2018


Pakistan Times, “PM’s style of governance”, 7 September 2018 The Express Tribune, “The accountability culture”, 7 September, 2018 Pakistan Times, “Pakistan’s minorities”, 7 September 2018

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Rajan Philips, “Rajapaksa scion stages janabalaya, UNP reaches old age at 72”, The Island, 9 September 2018 C A Chandraprema, “The Joint Opposition’s show of force”, The Island, 8 September 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Post-war trauma still haunts TNA”, Ceylon Today, 8 September 2018 Kelum Bandara, “India redoubles efforts for Buddhist tourism promotion”, Daily Mirror Online, 7 September 2018 Ranga Jayasuriya, “Back to usual: Tamil nationalism says no to development”, Daily Mirror Online, 7 September 2018 K K S Perera,”Wanted a candidate for presidency”, Daily Mirror Online, 4 September 2018 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Corrupting the election system even more”, Ceylon Today, 4 September 2018


Afghanistan & Pakistan: Sohini Bose Bangladesh: Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale India: Ketan Mehta Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee Nepal: Sohini Nayak
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