New Delhi: After four days of intense arguments by the petitioners in the Sethusamudram case before the Supreme Court, the bench hearing the matter has suggested that the government file a response on the issue from the Archaeological Survey of India, or ASI, and also consider alternative routes that would be economically and ecologically viable.
Area of controversy: A satellite image showing the Ram Sethu
Chief Justice K. G. Balakrishnan told the Union government: “As per the Madras high court direction, ASI report should be done.” He also added that the government should explain whether any other “channel” or route that would not damage the controverisal Ram Sethu could be considered.
The Madras high court had on 23 July asked the United Progressive Alliance , or UPA, government at the Centre to find out whether archaeological studies have been conducted and an alternative alignment for the shipping project was possible.
“This is a success for us; this is our stand. We got an order in our favour in the Madras high court and the Union government moved the case to the Supreme Court. Today, the Supreme Court confirmed the earlier order. Lord Hanuman is with us,” said Kuppu Swamy D., general secretary of the Rameshwaram Ram Sethu Raksha Manch, a group formed to protect the Ram Sethu or Adam’s Bridge.
The controversial Sethu-samudram canal project involves dredging a channel through a walkway between India and Sri Lanka to reduce shipping time. The Supreme Court through an interimorder in 2007 had directedthat the dredging activity should continue except in the area where the Ram Sethu is located.
Earlier, the petitioners had stressed that a significant element in the government’sview on the issue—a comprehensive report on the archaeological and historical significance of the Ram Sethu—was missing. On 29 February, the Union government had filed its affidavit after withdrawing an earlier one submitted in September that said the Hindu god Ram did not exist. However, the second affidavit left the question whether the Ram Sethu was man-made unanswered.
As the arguments commenced a week ago, the petitoners, apart from opposing the project on religious, economical and environmental aspects, contended beforethe court that the Union government had paid no heedto the Madras high court’sdirections.
Last Thursday, senior counsel K. K. Venugopal, appearing for petitioners Dandi Swamy Sri Vidyanada Bhartiji and J. Jayalalithaa, chief of the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the principal opposition party in Tamil Nadu, said: “It has not been investigated by the ASI. We cannot predicate whether it is man-made or natural.” Senior counsel C.S. Vaidyanathan, appearing for Ram Gopalan, who is the leader of the Hindu Munani, a religious organization, suggested an alternative route that would not require dredging through the Ram Sethu.
Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy, who appeared in person, concluded his arguments on Thursday and said the government should “go back to the drawing board and do a fair job and a non-arbitrary and proportional analysis” of the issue.
But Tamil Nadu’s ruling party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a key backer of the project and a member of the UPA, reacted indifferently. “The ASI had already submitted a report. It is a report based on science and only a few lines were removed. The chief minister (of Tamil Nadu M. Karunanidhi) says that itis not his intention to hurt anybody’s feelings but millions cannot be deprived of opportunities because of the feelings of a few people. This route has been taken up because there is no alternative. This is the party’s position,” said MK member of Parliament Kanimozhi.
The court will next hear the case on 22 July. Krishnamurthy Ramasubbu contributed to this story