Thursday, May 8, 2008

Day 4: Center Bites Dust as Apex Court Asks: Can Ram Setu be declared a Monument?

Daily Peioneer New Delhi

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.

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