In a fresh twist to the controversy-marred Sethu Samudram Channel Project, the Centre recently said that the Ram Sethu cannot be declared a national monument and backed its stand by relying on an affidavit, which it had withdrawn in the wake of a country-wide furore over its contents doubting the existence of Ramayana, Lord Rama and their link to Ram Sethu.
Reputed senior advocate Fali S Nariman read out portions of the withdrawn affidavit to show that the Centre had taken a consistent stand that ?Ram Sethu does not fulfil the criteria to be declared as a national monument. The stand of the government is crystal clear on this all the time in Parliament and in courts.?
But it soon became a little awkward, especially for a counsel of Nariman'sstanding, when a bench comprising Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justices R.V. Raveendran and J.M. Panchal, taking a cue from petitioner Subramanian Swamy, pointed out that the Centre could not rely on an affidavit that had already been withdrawn.
?Are the paragraphs from the withdrawn affidavit, which you are reading in support of the Centre'sstand, incorporated in the fresh affidavit?? the bench asked.
Nariman said: ?We take the entire blame for the withdrawal. The affidavit was withdrawn because people reacted in a certain manner. The assertion of the Union government that it is not a monument does not get diluted by the withdrawal of the affidavit.?
This did not impress the bench, which said: ?Why did you not refile the affidavit if you are relying on it except for the paragraph which was objected to by public on the issue of faith? You did not say you are withdrawing only the problematic paragraph, but you withdrew the entire affidavit. The problem is that it cannot be relied upon as it had been withdrawn.?
At the beginning of the hearing, Nariman, who had earlier said he had taken up the suggestions from the court about alternative routes with the ?highest authority?, said the Centre'sresponse on this issue was pending with the Prime Minister, who is likely to give a response shortly. ?I have written to the Prime Minister. I may get a response today (Tuesday) or tomorrow (Wednesday). I do not know what will be the response. So, let us complete the hearing,? he said. The court agreed and decided to complete the hearing.
So, now all eyes will be on the response from the PM, who two years ago on July 2, 2005, had inaugurated the Rs 2,400-crore Sethu Samudram Project amid much fanfare. In contrast to the categoric stand that Ram Sethu cannot be declared as a national monument, the Centre had done a tight rope walk in its affidavit filed after withdrawing the controversial one.
Adopting an ultra-secularist approach to the demand for determination of Ram Sethu'sancient monument status on the basis of its mythological age, the Centre had said: ?Issues of faith cannot be resolved by taking recourse to science or scientific evidence.?
?India is a secular state and respects all religions and religious faiths and beliefs. A secular state cannot espouse the cause of any religion, faith or belief. In a multi-religious, multi-cultural society, the state cannot and should not be called upon to determine issues of faith,? it had said.
?The state respects all religions and faiths, but cannot make them the basis and instrument of state policy. The Union of India is of the belief that it should not be called upon to respond to issues of faith, except in recognising their existence,? it had said.