Not applicable to those from Ramanathapuram and Sivaganga districts, parish sisters and fathers

A high-level meeting convened by the district administration in connection with the St. Antony’s Church festival at Katchatheevu scheduled for February 23 and 24, has decided that Indian pilgrims who wished to attend the festival should obtain no objection certificate (NoC) from their respective police stations.

Collector K. Nanthakumar, who chaired the meeting, advised parish priest Rameswaram L. Sagayaraj, who is the chief organiser of the two-day pilgrimage, to instruct the pilgrims, coming from all over Tamil Nadu and neighbouring States to attest the NoC along with their applications.

Pilgrims, hailing from Ramanathapuram and Sivaganga districts, and parish sisters and fathers, would, however, be exempted from producing the NoC. The District Police would verify the list of pilgrims from the two districts and give clearance, the meeting has decided.

The Collector also asked the priest to furnish the list of pilgrims by February 20, two days in advance, so that the security agencies could verify and give their clearance in time. This would help avoid last minute rush and embarrassments, he said.

The pilgrims should report at the Rameswaram fishing jetty on the morning of February 23. The Customs Department has made it clear that the pilgrims could carry only water, food and personal belongings. In case of mobiles and other electronic items, they should declare them at the Customs and show them on their return. The pilgrims have also been barred from carrying Indian currency notes.

The Collector said that the Fisheries Department would provide lifejackets to all the pilgrims and the chief organiser should ensure that pilgrims wear them while sailing to the island. The officials would accompany the pilgrims only up to the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL), the Collector said.

Bishop Sagayaraj told reporters that they would leave on the morning of February 23 and return the next day after attending the Feast Mass at 8.30 am in the island. He said that pilgrims would be required to pay Rs. 500 for the visit and he was planning to collect all the filled-in applications by February 10. “We expect around 3,500 pilgrims this year, mainly from Tamil Nadu,” he said adding that last year the festival was attended by 2,963 Indian pilgrims.

He said that the festival is hosted by the Jaffna Diocese, under the Neduntivu parish. Bishop Thomas Soundaranayagam would conduct the Feast Mass on February 24, while the evening mass on the previous day would be conducted by a senior priest from India, he said.

Though there are no restrictions on account of visa-related procedures, the pilgrims would have to pass through the Customs. They will be frisked by the police, Coastal Security Group and other security agencies before taking the boat to the island.

Thursday’s meeting was attended, among others, by officers from the Navy, Coast Guard, Customs, Coastal Security Group, District Police, Q branch police, Intelligence Bureau and Revenue Department.