Who authorized Indian Fishermen free access to Katchativu?
Question is now being asked, who authorized to allow Indian fishermen and Indian pilgrims to enter Katchativu to participate in the St Anthony’s Church Festival, without proper travel documents and entry visas?
Another question now being posed, as to why Sri Lankan Government miserably failed to implement the International Maritime Boundary Line Agreement of 1976, it entered with India – an international legal instrument, under United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Sri Lanka entered two Agreements to determine the International maritime boundary lines with India.
The first agreement between Sri Lanka and India on the boundary lines was of the historical waters between the two countries and related matters were entered on June 1974.
The second agreement was also between Sri Lanka and India on the international maritime boundary lines between the two countries in the Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal and related matters was entered on March 1976.
The second Agreement entered between India and Sri Lanka which delimited boundaries in the Gulf of Mannar, and in the Bay Bengal to the west and east of the boundary line was in line with already delimited agreement of 1974.
Regarding the determination of the 'Maritime Boundary', according to a joint press statement issued on 28 June 1974, "…As a result of this joint examination, a boundary in Palk Bay has been defined in conformity with the historical evidence, legal international principles and precedents. This boundary falls one mile off the coast of uninhabited islet of Katchativu, while mutually satisfactory provisions have been made regarding navigation, pilgrimage and mineral exploration in, they are … Accordingly, the Western side of the boundary line was the exclusive fishery rights of the Indian fishermen and the Eastern side of the boundary line is the exclusive fishery rights of Sri Lankan fishermen."
1974 Agreement confirmed the sovereign right of Sri Lanka over the islet of Katchativu.
However Article V of the 1974 Agreement stated:
"Subject to the foregoing, Indian fisherman and pilgrims will enjoy access to visit Katchativu as hitherto, and will not be required by Sri Lanka to obtain travel documents, or visas for these purposes.
But, the 1976 Agreement did away with the concessions given in Article 5 of the 1974 Agreement.
Therefore, according to 1976 Agreement there was no provision in for either the Indian fishermen or the Indian pilgrims to enter Katchativu either to dry their nets, or to the St. Anthony’s Church festival, without proper travel document and entry visa issued by the Sri Lankan Government.
I am at a loss to understand why Sri Lankan Government overlooked the 1976 Maritime Boundary Agreement it entered with India and allowed Indian fishermen and pilgrims to enter Katchativu without travel documents and without any visa requirements.
It is unknown, who was behind this move - to this grave lapse, to allow Indian fishermen and Indian pilgrims to enter into Sri Lanka’s sovereign territory – Katchativu islet, without enforcing proper immigration requirements.
As far as I am aware, I couldn’t lay my hands, on any Acts or Regulations regarding travel documents and visa exemptions, or any Special Gazette Notifications issued by the relevant authorities in Sri Lanka to allow Indians to enter Katchativu without travel document and entry visa.
At present, as the Indian fishermen and pilgrims have announced of boycotting the annual church feast at Katchativu, and it is the right time for the Sri Lankan Government take cognizance of the 1976 July Agreement regarding the International Maritme Boundary between India and Sri Lanka to announce adoption of the clauses in the 1976 Agreement and implement, to the letter and spirit of the law.
The Feast of St Anthony’s Church in Katchativu is to be held today at the Katchativu islet - a sovereign territory of Sri Lanka.
Only Sri Lankan fishermen and pilgrims are currently participating in the festival, which is being held at the newly renovated and expanded St.Anthony’s chapel.
Asian Tribune learnt that Commander Northern Naval Area, Rear Admiral Piyal De Silva has made all the necessary arrangements in connection with today’s annual church festival.
The Governor of the Northern Province Reginald Cooray has been invited to participate in the Church Festival, but Asian Tribune learnt he will not be participating in the Church Feast.
When Asian Tribune contacted Navy sources to ascertain whether the Chief Minister of Northern Province was invited to participate in the Church Festival, I was told that no such invitation was extended to the Chief Minister, even the islet of Katchativu comes under the Northern Province.
On the other hand, Jaffna Government Agent, an official, according to sources, who is one of the five district secretaries of the North, has been invited as an honor guest to participate in the Church Festival.
- Asian Tribune -