Jaya writes to PM Modi over demolition of church by Sri Lanka

New Delhi: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister on Saturday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over reports indicating that the Sri Lankan Government plans to demolish and reconstruct the ancient St Anthonys Church on the island of Katchatheevu, which holds great significance by Tamil fishermen who have been visiting the church since centuries. In the letter, she states that the fishermen who mostly belong to the Roman Catholic faith are extremely concerned that they have not been consulted regarding the proposed reconstruction.

“St Anthonys Church on Katchatheevu Island holds considerable religious significance for the fisherfolk in the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu including Nagapattinam, Thanjavur, Pudukkottai, Ramanathapuram, Thoothukudi and Tirunelveli. They have traditionally undertaken pilgrimages to the island for the annual festival of St Anthonys for several centuries. It is part of their essential cultural and religious heritage,” the letter states.

“You are also aware that I have consistently taken up the issue of retrieval of Katchatheevu and restoration of the traditional fishing rights of Tamil Nadu fishermen with the Government of India. As per Agreements entered into by the Government of India in 1974 and 1976, Katchatheevu was ceded to Sri Lanka and the fishermen of Tamil Nadu have been deprived of their fishing rights around Katchatheevu ever since,” she added.

The Chief Minister also said that she has personally filed a Writ Petition in this regard in the Supreme Court of India in 2008 and the Tamil Nadu government has also impleaded itself in 2011.As per the order of the Supreme Court of India in the Berubari case of 1960,  a part of any territory owned by India can be ceded to another country only through a Constitutional Amendment.

“However, Katchatheevu was ceded to Sri Lanka without a Constitutional amendment and hence the ceding is unlawful and not valid. The abrogation of the 1974 and 1976 agreements and retrieval of Katchatheevu will permanently restore the traditional fishing rights of the fishermen of Tamil Nadu and resolve a long pending issue,” Jaya said.

She also asserted that the decision of the Sri Lankan government to demolish and reconstruct the St Anthonys Church, without consulting Tamil Nadu fishermen who are vital stakeholders, appears to be a carefully calculated provocation.

Calling on the Prime Minister to respond immediately, Jaya appealed to him to him to prevail upon the Sri Lankan government to first consult the fishermen from Tamil Nadu on this issue and take further steps in this regard only in consultation with all the key stakeholders.  “The Sri Lankan side should also be prevailed upon to accept the reconstruction of the church jointly by India and Sri Lanka after obtaining the concurrence of the Tamil Nadu fishermen,” she said.

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