Mumbai: No verdict is likely to emerge on the controversial Sethu Samudram project on Wednesday because a key litigant is expected to ask the Supreme Court for more time to file a counter- affidavit.
The controversial project involves dredging a channel through a walkway between India and Sri Lanka to reduce shipping times. A three-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, is to decide whether to lift a stay order, issued in September, on work at the site of Adam’s Bridge, also known as Ram Sethu, as many Hindu groups believe it was built by Hindu god Ram.
As lawyers prepared their arguments on Tuesday, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) launched a nationwide rally that may continue throughout the week “to remind the state that this is a question of Hindu sentiments and you cannot ignore them,” said S. Vedantam, international vice-president of VHP.
Last week, the government filed its affadavit to the court, with only two of its 89 paragraphs addressing religion. The court had asked the affadavit to detail the bridge’s religious and cultural significance but, the government asked the court to take a decision based on the findings of a government-appointed “committee of eminent persons” that has conducted hearings on the matter.
Chief petitioner Subramanian Swamy said he plans to inform the court of his first reactions and ask the bench to dismiss the affidavit because it does not answer the court’s questions.
Before the case was transferred to the Supreme Court, the Madras high court had asked the government two questions about the project: Why was this channel alignment chosen among six alternatives? And has the ministry of culture conducted any research on the bridge’s cultural significance?
The Supreme Court upheld these questions when the case was transferred from the high court. Now, one withdrawn affidavit, four date extensions and seven months later, the government has still not responded, Swamy said. “The department of shipping has filed it when the Union government should have done that. It explains why this route was chosen in the context of the environment. But, when I raised that question (of alignment), I was looking for answers about its economics and national security implications,” he said. “They don’t even address the second question.”
Meanwhile, “we are preparing for a massive andolan (movement) if anyone attacks the Ram Sethu,” said VHP president, Ashok Singhal. “They have declared a war on Hindus and we will not stand by.”