By Mahak Vijay, Raffles University, Rajasthan.

History of relations between India and Sri Lanka

India is Sri Lanka’s closest neighbor. The relationship between the two countries is more than 2,500 years old and both sides have built upon a legacy of intellectual, cultural, religious and linguistic interaction. In recent years, the relationship has been marked by close contacts at the highest political level, growing trade and investment, cooperation in the fields of development, education, culture and defense, as well as a broad understanding on major issues of international interest. [1]

Problems between the two started when the question of possession of island of kachcha thivu in Palk Strait came. Due to Extension of territorial waters by both countries it led to overlapping of territorial waters both in Palk Strait and Palk Bay. They signed a maritime boundary in Palk Strait which was effective from 9th July 1974.[2]

Another maritime boundary agreement of 1976 affecting the boundary in Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal was signed. Under it each party was required to respect rights of navigation through its territorial sea and exclusive economic zone in accordance with the laws and regulations and rules of international law.[3]

The main problem is the question of Tamil in Sri Lanka demand for Elam came up and it has created a big gulf in cordial relationship between the two. In 1950s there was hardly any problem between them except the question regarding granting of citizenship to the people of Indian origin mostly Tamils.[4]

The first IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) operation was launched on 9 October 1987, as Operation Pawan (Wind), to neutralize the LTTE operational capability in and around Jaffna. Strict rules of engagement were laid down for this operation, almost amounting to Indian Army’s hands being tied. Use of artillery, heavy weaponry and offensive air support was forbidden to minimize civilian casualty and damage to property. The Indian Army’s plan was to cripple the LTTE guerrilla network by capturing its headquarters in Jaffna City, a task the Sri Lankan Army had tried for many years without success. Capture or neutralization of the LTTE’s chain of command was expected to leave the rebel movement directionless in the face of the impending assault by the IPKF.[5]

Fishermen issue between India and Sri Lanka

The problems of Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen in the Palk Bay appear everlasting. The causes which attributed to the problem are the instances of Indian fishermen being prevented from fishing, facing harassment and arrest by the Sri Lankan Navy (SLN). Due to consistent efforts of government of India it secure release of 676 fishermen in 2013 and 536 out of 541 fishermen arrested by Sri Lankan navy in 2014 (till 18 July 2014). [6]

A series of letters and a memorandum, presented to the Indian Prime Minister on 3 June, 2014 by Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, reflected the sentiments of fishermen on this issue. The Chief Minister mentioned that the arrests and harassment of Tamil Nadu fishermen by the Sri Lankan navy “have caused great unrest amongst the fishermen community of Tamil Nadu” and made specific suggestions to resolve the ICWA View Point 3 issues such as:

“(a) Protection of the traditional rights of the Indian (Tamil Nadu) fishermen in the Palk Bay and ensuring their safety and security,

(b) Retrieval of Katchatheevu and restoration of traditional fishing rights of Tamil Nadu fishermen and the government of India should take active steps to abrogate 1974 and 1976 India- Sri Lanka agreements”.[7]

Reasons for this fishermen dispute:

  1. A) There is no well defined boundary line between the two nations.
  2. B) Territorial waters overlap in some areas: Maritime border between the two countries is about 400 kilometers spreading along three different areas: the Bay of Bengal in the north, the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar in the centre and the Indian Ocean in the south. In the Palk Bay region, distances between the coasts of the two countries varies between 16 and 45 kms. This means territorial waters of each country in some areas strays into the others if 12 nautical mile criteria are strictly applied.
  3. C) LTTE issue has raised vigilance: The issue of fishermen came to existence with the emergence of violent ethnic conflict between the Tamil militants and the Sri Lankan government in the mid 1980s. Increased vigilance by the Sri Lankan Navy to check intermittent flow of Tamil refugees into India and flow of arms and supplies to Tamil militant groups made fishing difficult and risky. Due to these fishermen from both nations suffered.
  4. D) Security concerns: The monitoring is still on which aimed at preventing possible return of LTTE cadres, who fled from the island during the height of the conflict in 2009, to revive the insurgency all over again.

(E) Historical perspective: Both Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen have been fishing into Palk Bay area for centuries. Problem emerged only after a maritime agreement was signed by India and Sri Lanka in 1974. In fact, initially the 1974 border agreement did not affect fishing on either sides of the border. In 1976, through an exchange of letter, both India and Sri Lanka agreed to stop fishing in each other’s waters. However, the agreement could not stop the fishermen from fishing in these waters, as fishermen know no boundary. They go wherever they can get maximum number of catch. They, knowingly or unknowingly, often violate the International Maritime Boundary Lines in search of a good catch, at times at great personal risk.

It is noteworthy that despite the signing of maritime boundary agreements, fishermen communities of both the countries continued their fishing in the Palk Bay area peacefully until the Eelam war broke out in 1983. Nonetheless, after the end of War in 2009, the Sri Lankan fishermen have been raising their objection to Indian fishermen fishing in their waters. [8]

Various agreements signed between the two in 2015

During the visit of Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisen India and Sri Lanka have signed an agreement on Cultural cooperation and Civil Nuclear Cooperation during Sri Lanka’s newly elected President Maithripala Sirisen four-day visit to India from 15 to 18 Feb. 2015.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena visited India on a four-day state visit. This is his first trip abroad since he won the presidential elections in 2015. Sri Lanka has signed first such bilateral agreement on civil nuclear cooperation. Agreements that are signed between India and Sri Lanka:

  1. Work Plan 2014-15 under MoU on Cooperation in the field of Agriculture –It will facilitate bilateral cooperation in Agro Processing, Agricultural extension, horticulture, agricultural machinery, training in farm mechanization, livestock diseases, etc. between relevant institutes and organizations from both countries.
  2. MoU on establishment of Nalanda University –It will enable Sri Lanka to participate in India’s Nalanda University project.
  3. Agreement on Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy –It will facilitate the transfer and exchange of knowledge and expertise, resources in peaceful uses of Nuclear energy between both nations. This agreement also includes capacity building and training of personnel for nuclear security, radioactive waste management and nuclear and radiological disaster mitigation and environmental protection.
  4. Programme of Cultural cooperation between both nations for years 2015-18 –It seeks to enhance cooperation in different fields like arts, visuals arts, cultural documentation, archeology, handicrafts etc between both nations.[9]

During the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit India and Sri Lanka on 13 March 2015 signed four agreements. These agreements were signed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden visit to the island nation as part of three-nation of Indian Ocean tour of Mauritius, Seychelles and Sri Lanka. [10]The four agreements signed are

  1. Agreement on visa.
  2. Agreement on customs.
  3. Agreement on youth development.
  4. Agreement on building memorial of Rabindranath Tagore in Sri Lanka.

Apart from this signing these agreements both nations agreed to strengthen the economic relations between India and Sri Lanka.

  1. India will help Sri Lanka to develop a petroleum hub at Trincomalee city.
  2. Fresh Line of Credit (LOC) up to $318 million will be provided by India for the railways sector in Sri Lanka.
  3. Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the Central Bank of Sri Lanka will enter into a Currency Swap Agreement of $1.5 billion in order to keep the Sri Lankan rupee stable.[11]


We know the issues it is upon the two countries to cooperate as neighboring countries to support each other. The problem is same and solution will be there when they two come together. Although Indian government has taken some steps like The Indian government has undertaken a census of fishermen, preparing a database of information on fishermen and their boats to be used for more effective monitoring of fishing activities. The Indian Coast Guard has also begun installing tracking devices in fishing boats operating in the waters, developed by the ISRO; the tracking device has the ability to send out alerts for fires on board, a sinking vessel, a medical emergency and when the boat is apprehended by another country.[12] We can see through these agreements that they trust each other and in coming time they will solve these problems.

[1] India-Sri Lanka Relations. (2015). Retrieved 1 April 2015, from

[2] ibid

[3] ibid

[4] Google Books,. (2015). Indo-Sri Lanka Relations. Retrieved 7 April 2015, from relation with sri lanka in relation with international law&f=false

[5] Homeleand Warriors,. (2015). Homeleand Warriors. Retrieved 8 April 2015, from

[6] Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies – India, Sri Lanka, fishermen issue India-Sri Lanka: Time to Settle the Fishermen Issue Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies – India, Sri Lanka, fishermen issue, (2015). India-Sri Lanka: Time to Settle the Fishermen Issue. Retrieved 7 April 2015, from

[7] (2015). Retrieved 7 April 2015, from

[8] Why does Indian fisherman often run into problem in Indian Ocean?,. (2015). Why does Indian fisherman often run into problem in Indian Ocean?. Retrieved 8 April 2015, from

[9] Kumar, A. India & Sri Lanka sign agreement on Cultural cooperation & Civil Nuclear Cooperation

Kumar, A. (2015). India & Sri Lanka sign agreement on Cultural cooperation & Civil Nuclear Cooperation. EduScoop. Retrieved 7 April 2015, from

[10] India, Sri Lanka ink four agreements, (2015). India, Sri Lanka ink four agreements. Retrieved 7 April 2015, from

[11] ibid

[12] ibid