The Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) on Sunday dismissed reports that it planned to build a naval facility on the Katchatheevu islet, which was ceded by India to Sri Lanka during the June 1974 bilateral agreement.
Talking to The Hindu, SLN Commander Vice-Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne termed “baseless” the reports that the Navy had planned to install a detachment on the islet. “Our role in the proposed construction of a new shrine at St. Anthony’s church has been blown out of proportion,” the Commander added.
After Vikas Swarup’s observations
The Commander’s attention was drawn to observations of the official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs in the Indian government, Vikas Swarup, a few days ago that the Indian High Commission had been asked to provide more details on the reports and the move to build a shrine without informing India.
Recounting how the Navy got involved in the construction of the shrine for which the foundation stone was laid a week ago, the Vice Admiral Wijegunaratne explained that when the annual two-day Katchatheevu festival took place in February this year, the help of the Navy was sought by both the Diocese of Jaffna and visiting Indian pilgrims, mostly fishermen, for putting up a new shrine as the existing one was too small to accommodate the pilgrims and it was very old.
According to Bishop of Jaffna, Rt. Rev. Justin Bernard Gnanapragasam, under whose jurisdiction comes the Katchatheevu shrine, the size should be 10 X 8 ft.
Bishop rebuts contention
The Bishop, who attended the festival for the last four years, denied the contention that the original decision was to build the new shrine jointly by the Jaffna diocese and the fishermen from Tamil Nadu and Verkodu parish. “They have no say in such matters. Besides, only the Navy can carry out transportation of material. This was why we sought their help.”
The Navy would also arrange for labour and the Sri Lankan government might sound some private companies in Colombo to provide financial support for the shrine construction.
Rt. Rev. Gnanapragasam asserted that the pilgrims from Tamil Nadu, who approached him and renewed their request for the new shrine this year too, had expressed their desire to make contributions for the construction.
Pointing out that the existing shrine was built in 1901, the Commander described it as an “archaeological monument,” which the Navy “cannot disturb.” As in India, any structure that had been in existence for not less than 100 years would come under laws on archaeology.
Besides, the steel bar, used to put up a structure during the visit of Pope Francis in January last year, would be utilised on Katchatheevu. The Vice-Admiral said when Pope Francis was in Sri Lanka, Joseph Vaz, a 17 century priest who belonged to Goa and engaged himself in evangelism in Sri Lanka, was cannonised. “This is why we have felt that if we put to use what was blessed by the Holy Father, this would promote ties between peoples of Sri Lanka and India,” the Commander added. (The Hindu)