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Govt to take into account int’l norms in Sethu controversy

Govt to take into account int’l norms in Sethu controversy

New Delhi: Caught between conflicting demands, culture minister Ambika Soni today said government will take a decision that fits “international norms and the sentiments" of all those involved while working out a solution for the controversial Sethusamudram project.

However, she was non-committal on whether government would accept an alternative alignment for the Rs3500-crore project pursued vigorously by most parties in Tamil Nadu supporting the government at the Centre.

Similarly, she was not forthcoming on whether the government would order an Archaeological Survey to determine if ‘Ram Setu’ was man-made or a natural formation.

“I can’t give an opinion...but obviously we want to take the whole thing in a manner that it fits international norms and the sentiments of the people involved and the project for the purpose it is being setup, the viability, comments by other authorities.

“Government will take a view of all this while deciding," Soni said in an interaction with PTI.

She was asked whether government would opt for an alternative in the wake of controversy raked up by Hindu organizations that the project would damage the mythological Ram Setu and whether an Archaeological Survey would be conducted as a way out of the present imbroglio.

The minister dismissed allegations that Government had buckled under pressure to withdraw its controversial affidavit in the Supreme Court which had suggested that there was no historical evidence to establish the existence of Lord Ram and other characters in Ramayana.

“The leadership decided to withdraw it because it was a wrong affidavit. When you are filing an affidavit, it must be the one which has been cleared, which then has the sanctity of being the right affidavit."

Soni said it was either through an “oversight" or other reasons due to which the wrong affidavit was filed in the apex court.

The Ministry of Culture and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) have given their points of view in writing to the Cabinet Secretary.

“When they access us for further opinion or for harmonising or coordination, we will then look at it....I can’t say anything on a hypothetical basis", she said.

The Minister said that on the issue of the ‘Ram Setu’ being declared as an ancient monument or a site of national importance, different public interest litigations have worded it differently. “It is very difficult to say anything on this".

She made it clear that there was no suo motu proposal from her ministry in this regard. “This is the stand we have taken in writing when the Prime Minister had asked the Cabinet Secretary on 13 January to coordinate with the Secretaries of Culture, Shipping and Law Ministries and together make one affidavit."

On whether the ‘Ram Setu’ (Adam’s bridge) was man-made or not, she said since the ASI was never asked to undertake any archaeological excavation in that area, it was “very difficult" for her to give any direct information on it.

“We can only base our opinion on the information supplied to us from the Geological Survey of India, Space Application Centre and the Nasa satellite images. According to all these reports......there does not seem to be a man-made structure".

A committee of experts constituted following direction by the apex court suggested that an archaeologist could survey and supervise the excavation of Setusamudram.

“We have replied quoting rules that this is not possible. So, we do not need an archaeologist to supervise a commercial excavation because a commercial excavation is very different from an archaeological excavation."

She said the “best and most honest answer" would come only if the ASI was to undertake some kind of excavation according to international norms.

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