New Delhi: After weeks of dithering, seeking extensions and withdrawing previously filed affidavits, the Union government filed its affidavit in the Supreme Court without addressing a key question: is the Adam’s Bridge, or Ram Sethu, man-made or natural?
Only two of 89 paragraphs of the affidavit discuss religion, largely leaving the court to decide the fate of a project that has been held up primarily because of opposition to it on religious grounds.
“The state respects all religions and faiths, but cannot make them a basis and instrument of State policy,” the affidavit says.
Read the affidavit filed by the government
Countless Hindus believe the walkway between India and Sri Lanka was made by Hindu god Ram and that belief has sparked massive protests against a government plan to dredge the Sethu to shorten shipping routes. The issue united disparate groups, such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and environmentalists, and the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is seeking to find a cause, especially in south India, and local fisherman who said their livelihoods were at stake.
Concerns also were raised over the fiscal soundness of the Rs2,600 crore project, as costs skyrocketed and loan terms expired.
In its affidavit, though, the government provided no evidence of the creation of the bridge. In addition, the Union government questioned why petitioners only approached the court in May 2007, some five years after the project had been approved. The rest of the affidavit details the history and background of the project—indeed, one proposal to dredge a canal dates back to 1860.
The government says the present dredging route was chosen after weighing ecological and environmental considerations.
Noting the report of the Committee of Eminent Persons, a group the government had convened to examine the issue, the Union government asked the court to resolve the sticky situation based on the committee’s conclusions.
In some ways, petitioners fear that if the issue stays with the court, it will remain dormant, similar to the case brought against politicians alleging involvement in the Babri Masjid demolition. Alluding to this, Janata party leader and petitioner Subramanian Swa-my said, “Once the case gets stuck, the Ram Sethu is safe.”
He expressed concern over the government not paying heed to the Madras high court’s direction, later upheld by the Supreme Court, that the ministry of culture conduct an investigation into the ancient archaeological site and explain its religious and cultural importance.
“The government has not taken a clear cut stand and they have already destroyed their own case,” claimed Swamy. “They are also looking to the courts to fish them out of this predicament.”
A senior counsel of the Supreme Court, who did not wish to be identified, said: “It is right that scientific evidence cannot be used to decide upon a matter of faith. How can one prove without doubt that Jesus was put on the cross? The court will say that the government is not addressing the matter presented by the petitioners and will refuse to vacate the stay” on the Ram Sethu project, he predicted.
On 31 January, the court gave the government a four-week extension to file its affidavit, after it withdrew its earlier two affidavits in September last year that included a controversial affidavit that stated there was no evidence to prove the existence of Ram.