Look for alternative to proposed Setu route: SC

Times of India
9 May 2008, 0035 hrs IST,Dhananjay Mahapatra,TNN

NEW DELHI: In a development that could boost those opposing the Sethusamudram project, the Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Centre to consider an alternative alignment for the proposed canal.

A three-judge bench also suggested the Centre explore the possibility of a study by Archaeological Survey of India to determine if the Ram Setu could be classified as an ancient monument.

The observations of Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justices R V Raveendran and J M Panchal should encourage the assorted group of Hindutva activists and environmentalists who have opposed the Setu project for diverse reasons.

After two days of discussions on the Setu - believed to have been built by Lord Rama to cross into Ravana's kingdom - the bench asked senior advocate Fali S Nariman to urge the Centre to examine the viability of an alternative alignment.

Though not binding, the suggestions - coming in response to passionate arguments on behalf of petitioners accusing the Centre of disregarding the belief of millions to please UPA partner DMK - can add to the reluctance of an already wary Congress on whether to go ahead with the politically sensitive project.

The government has in any case been on the back foot since the affidavit in the apex court questioning the existence of Lord Rama.

With BJP already on the lookout for an emotive issue, Congress may be constrained to appear sensitive for the alternative alignment now that it has been endorsed by the apex court.

The desirability of the alignment of the Rs 2,400 crore project that proposes dredging a channel having a width of 300 metres on Ram Setu to shorten the shipping distance between the western and eastern coast ports has been questioned also by environmentalists, economists and security analysts.

However, it is the "matter of faith for 100 crore Hindus" argument put forward by the Hindutva organizations that is proving to be the chief deterrent.

The suggestion came from the bench after Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy, in his arguments over two days, pointed out the fallacies in the decision of the government to go ahead with the project ostensibly under pressure from coalition ally DMK.

What prompted the apex court to give these suggestions was the Madras High Court order of June 19 last year asking the government to conduct an in-depth study by ASI and consideration of an alternative alignment without harming the Ram Setu.

With the court's interim order restraining any dredging on Ram Setu till further orders continuing to operate, this long adjournment along with the suggestions for an in-depth ASI study and consideration of an alternative alignment would be sure to delay the project, despite the government expressing its keen desire and filing an application in the apex court seeking vacation of the interim stay order.

Senior advocates K Parasaran, Soli J Sorabjee, C S Vaidyanathan, Sriram Panchu and M Krishnanmani, who appeared for different petitioners, had stressed on the religious significance of Ram Setu among Hindus and had apprehended that any dredging could bring in a catastrophic situation akin to the one seen after the demolition of Babri Masjid.

Swamy had accused the Centre of dithering on declaring Ram Setu a national monument, though it had been repeatedly writing to Unesco to confer world heritage site status on Majuli islands, where people believe Lord Krishna had once danced with the "gopis".


Can Ram Setu be monument, asks SC

PNS/ Agencies | New Delhi
Pioneer, May 09, 2008

Explore alternative route, Govt told

The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Union Government to consider holding an archaeological survey to ascertain whether the Ram Setu can be declared an "ancient monument". The court also asked the Centre to examine the possibility of carrying out the project through other alignments.

"There is a specific direction of the Madras High Court that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) should carry investigations whether Ram Setu is an ancient monument or not," a Bench headed by Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan said. "You also explore the possibility of carrying out the project through any other channels (alignments)," the Bench, also comprising Justices RV Raveendran and JM Panchal, said.

The Supreme Court's order has come as an encouragement for the groups opposed to destruction of the Ram Setu. Janata Party president Subramanium Swamy, a petitioner in the case, told The Pioneer that the apex court's order was binding on the Government in the light of the recent Madras High Court order.

The matter will come up for further hearing on July 22. The Bench said that in the interregnum, the Centre could consider these two aspects as directed by the High Court on June 19 last year. Appearing for the Centre to defend the controversial project, senior advocate Fali S Nariman responded positively to the court's view.

Arguing against the demolition of the Ram Setu, Swamy, senior advocate C S Vaidyanathan and others contended that there was a possibility of going ahead with the project through alternative alignments, which would be economically more viable and cause no damage to environment. It would also protect the religious faith of Hindus who consider the structure as sacred, they submitted.

Swamy, who has filed the petition for declaring Ram Setu a protected monument, had alleged that the Government-appointed expert committee resisted the ASI probe that the structure was man-made. While the senior politician was questioning the committee report, the Bench said his request in the petition was confined only to the Ram Setu but he was arguing on entire Sethusamudram project. At this Swamy said, "If I prove that the project is illegal, then the Ram Setu will be protected." He would stop if the Centre forthrightly said that Ram Setu would be protected, he added.

The Janata Party chief said he was touching other aspects of the project as the entire economics projected in the scheme was a "fraud" and public money was being misused and the public being misled. Further, India had failed to comply with international obligation on the project by not taking the Sri Lankan Government into confidence as the scheme had implications on the maritime boundary, he added.

He said the Sri Lankan authorities were watching the outcome of the proceedings in the apex court and Colombo may drag India to International Court of Justice, The Hague, seeking independent probe about the environmental impact of the project.

The 34-member advisory committee group constituted by the Sri Lankan Government has concluded that environment impact assessment by India on the Sethusamudram project was inadequate, the Janata Party president claimed.


We don't go to sun to worship it, Swamy tells apex court

newKerala.com, May 07, 2008

New Delhi, May 7: The Supreme Court Wednesday had to contend with a blunt answer to its poser as to who goes to the Rama Sethu in the sea to worship it. "We all worship the sun. But we don't go to the sun to worship it," said former union minister Subramanian Swamy.

Speaking before the bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Swamy passionately opposed the proposed construction of a shorter navigational sea route around the Indian peninsula if it involved the destruction of the Rama Sethu or Adam's Bridge.

The bench, which also included Justice R.V. Raveendran and Justice J.M. Panchal, wanted to know last week if anyone takes to the sea to reach the Rama Sethu to worship it if it indeed had religious value.

The Janata Party president argued against the proposed breaching of the Rama Sethu due to dredging and its fallout on economy, environment and security besides of course the religious sensibilities of Hindus.

He narrated a series of five "strange coincidences" that occurred after a Dutch dredging machine deployed to breach the Rama Sethu broke down.

When a crane was pressed into service to retrieve the broken arms of the dredging machine from the sea, that too broke down, said Swamy.

The authorities then tried to conduct the retrieving operation by pressing into service another crane with the name of Hindu god Hanuman written over it. "But that too did not work."

After that the authorities summoned a Russian expert for the dredging operation but he ended up breaking both his legs, said Swamy.

And much to the amusement of the bench, he added: "Subsequently, a formal worship was organised. But a Tamil Nadu legislator who performed the worship died of heart attack the next day."

To this, the bench asked Swamy: "What do you expect from us?"

Swamy responded: "My Lord, please hold that the issue of Rama Sethu involves the religious faith and belief. Scrap the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project if the government is unable or unwilling to alter the alignment of the proposed channel and ensure that the bridge is not breached."

The former minister took pain to explain that he was not against a shorter navigational sea route per se. "Anything that touches the Rama Sethu, I am against it."

When Swamy pointed out that ship passengers could dump beef while passing through the Rama Sethu, Justice Raveendran censured him, saying: "You have already put a very strong fundamental argument. You are only devaluing that by your secondary one."

Earlier, Swamy said that section 295 of the Indian Penal Code provided for a jail term of two years on conviction to anyone defiles or damages a place of worship.

He asserted that under the same section no authority can sanction a project which involves damage or defilement of a place of worship.

And to prove that the Rama Sethu had religious value to Hindus, Swamy cited government documents that refer to the mythological bridge between India and Sri Lanka.

Among the government documents that Swamy quoted included a book tabled in parliament and released by the Prime Minister's Office.

He also cited a Tamil Nadu government advertisements on trains that say that the waters off Rameshwaram island "still carry the blessings of Lord Rama's Lotus feet because this is where from His monkey army crossed over to Sri Lanka to rescue Sita".


'Expert panel biased, resisted archaeological probe on Setu'
Pioneer, May 08, 2008

PTI | New Delhi

The expert committee appointed by the Centre to review the Sethusamudram project was biased, suppressed data and resisted archaeological probe to arrive at truth that Ram Setu was a man-made structure, Janata Party chief Subramanium Swamy on Wednesday alleged in the Supreme Court.

He supported his contention by bringing on record the admission made by the Centre and Tamil Nadu Government in different documents to recognise Ram Setu as a place of religious significance for Hindus. The existence of bridge has not been disputed, Swamy said referring to the affidavit filed by the Sethusamudram Corporation Ltd in which it said that a gallery or platform will be built around the Ram Setu so that people can come there and pay obeisance according to their religious belief.

Further the Prime Minister Office has tabled a document in Parliament containing the photograph taken by the remote sensing satellite on Ram Setu and has stated that the mythology attached to it suggests that the structure was man-made, he said.

"Government has plenty of research material to say that Rama Setu is constructed but it is not admitting," the senior politician said before a Bench headed by Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan.

He said DMK Government in Tamil Nadu, which wants the project to be pushed by demolishing Rama Setu has also recognised that Lord Ram had put his foot at the place and vanaras helped him to make the bridge to reach Sri Lanka.

This was clear from the advertisement of Tamil Nadu Government for Indian Railways, he said and elaborated that the effort of the Sri Lankan Government to promote tourism in the name of Lord Rama and Ramayan suggests the holiness of the place.

Swamy said the stand of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi to sit on protest for implementation of the project by ignoring the religious belief of 800 million Hindus was surprising.


On Day 2, its Sethu versus faith in SC

Express News Service
May 06, 2008

New Delhi, May 6 : On the second day of hearing arguments in the batch of petitions filed against the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project, the Supreme Court was again faced with the question of faith versus development. Senior advocate K Parasaran, appearing for Hindu Munani, argued how there was a need to adopt a balanced approach between the two facets of public interests religious belief and developmental projects. The submission came as he warned the State from going ahead with a wrong deed of authority, which he feared, will leave a deep wound in the minds of people. He said any damage caused to the Ram Sethu (Adams Bridge) might leave a permanent scar on the minds of people, akin to the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992.

Earlier during the day, senior advocate Soli Sorbajee appearing before the Bench, led by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan, said the structure had acquired a special significance amongst Hindus and any such action that results in impairment or even partial destruction of structure would amount to violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution.

A religious belief which is genuinely and conscientiously held over a long period of time by a substantial number of adherents or followers of a particular religion becomes an integral part of that religion and is entitled to protection under Article 25, he argued.

The Bench questioned Sorbajee: Hindus worship Bhoomata (Earth goddess)... the entire Govardhan hill near Mathura is worshiped. Can you say that no structure can be constructed there? Justice Raveendran asked.

To which, the former Attorney General replied, that in such cases, the guiding factor would be the religious belief of the community and it could not be historically or scientifically established.

After the Bench almost pushed him to a corner by citing examples of dams built on rivers like Ganga and Narmada, which too are worshiped, the senior advocate replied, We are not concerned with the outlandish example of mountains, rivers, trees. We are concerned with Rama Setu, He stressed that the courts role is to determine whether aforesaid belief is genuinely or conscientiously held over a period of time by Hindus, and if that be so, it falls within the ambit of freedom of religion guaranteed by Article 25.