Explore alternative alignments; Ask ASI to study historicity of Ram Sethu; Can it be a national monument, SC asks center
The Supreme Court on May 8 asked the union government to consider holding an archaeological survey to ascertain whether the Ram Sethu can be declared an ?ancient monument?. The court also asked the centre to examine the possibility of carrying out the project through other alignments.
?There is a specific direction of the Madras High Court that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) should carry investigations whether Ram Sethu is an ancient monument or not,? a bench headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan said. ?You also explore the possibility of carrying out the project through any other channels (alignments),? the bench, also comprising Justices R.V. Raveendran and J.M. Panchal, said.
The Supreme Court'sorder has come as an encouragement for the groups opposed to destruction of the Ram Sethu. Janata Party president Dr. Subramanian Swamy, a petitioner in the case, told the Organiser that the apex court'sorder was binding on the government in the light of the recent Madras High Court order.
HE matter will come up for further hearing on July 22. The bench said that in the interregnum, the centre could consider these two aspects as directed by the High Court on June 19 last year. Appearing for the centre to defend the controversial project, senior advocate Fali S Nariman responded positively to the court'sview.
Arguing against the demolition of the Ram Sethu, Dr. Swamy, senior advocate C.S. Vaidyanathan and others contended that there was a possibility of going ahead with the project through alternative alignments, which would be economically more viable and cause no damage to environment. It would also protect the religious faith of Hindus who consider the structure as sacred, they submitted.
A three-judge bench also suggested the centre to explore the possibility of a study by Archaeological Survey of India to determine if the Ram Sethu could be classified as an ancient monument.
The observations of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justices R.V. Raveendran and J.M. Panchal should encourage the assorted group of Hindutva activists and environmentalists who have opposed the Sethu project for diverse reasons.
After two days of discussions on the Sethu?believed to have been built by Lord Rama to cross into Ravana'skingdom?the bench asked senior advocate Fali S Nariman to urge the centre to examine the viability of an alternative alignment.
Though not binding, the suggestions?coming in response to passionate arguments on behalf of petitioners accusing the centre of disregarding the belief of millions to please UPA partner DMK?can add to the reluctance of an already wary Congress on whether to go ahead with the politically sensitive project.
The government has in any case been on the back foot since the affidavit in the apex court questioning the existence of Lord Rama.
Congress may be constrained to appear sensitive for the alternative alignment now that it has been endorsed by the apex court.
The desirability of the alignment of the Rs 2,400 crore project that proposes dredging a channel having a width of 300 metres on Ram Sethu to shorten the shipping distance between the western and eastern coast ports has been questioned also by environmentalists, economists and security analysts.
However, it is the ?matter of faith for 100 crore Hindus? argument put forward by the Hindutva organisations that is proving to be the chief deterrent.
The suggestion came from the bench after Janata Party president Dr. Subramanian Swamy, in his arguments over two days, pointed out the fallacies in the decision of the government to go ahead with the project ostensibly under pressure from coalition ally DMK.
What prompted the apex court to give these suggestions was the Madras High Court order of June 19 last year asking the government to conduct an in-depth study by ASI and consideration of an alternative alignment without harming the Ram Sethu.
With the court'sinterim order restraining any dredging on Ram Sethu till further orders continuing to operate, this long adjournment along with the suggestions for an in-depth ASI study and consideration of an alternative alignment would be sure to delay the project, despite the government expressing its keen desire and filing an application in the apex court seeking vacation of the interim stay order.
Senior advocates K. Parasaran, Soli J. Sorabjee, C.S. Vaidyanathan, Sriram Panchu and M. Krishnanmani, who appeared for different petitioners, had stressed on the religious significance of Ram Sethu among Hindus and had apprehended that any dredging could bring in a catastrophic situation akin to the one seen after the demolition of Babri structure.
Dr. Subramanian Swamy had alleged that the government-appointed expert committee resisted the ASI probe that the structure was man-made. While the senior politician was questioning the committee report, the bench said his request in the petition was confined only to the Ram Sethu but he was arguing on entire Sethusamudram project. At this Dr. Swamy said, ?If I prove that the project is illegal, then the Ram Sethu will be protected.?
He said the Sri Lankan authorities were watching the outcome of the proceedings in the apex court and Colombo may drag India to International Court of Justice, The Hague, seeking independent probe about the environmental impact of the project.
The 34-member advisory committee group constituted by the Sri Lankan government has concluded that environment impact assessment by India on the Sethusamud-ram project was inadequate, the Janata Party president claimed.