Friday, May 2, 2008

Last Lap in the Supreme Court Begins

The Hindu: Faith can't be questioned or probed: Venugopal
J. Venkatesan (The Hindu, May 2, 2008)

"800 million people believe Ramar Sethu was built by Lord Ram. Can court go into the issue whether he existed?"
People believe Christ was crucified at a particular place. Can this be probed?
NIOT report indicates that Ramar Sethu was man made

New Delhi: There is considerable scientific and historical evidence to suggest that Ramar Sethu (Adam's Bridge) is man made and should be declared an ancient monument of national importance, senior counsel K.K. Venugopal argued in the Supreme Court on Thursday.

A Bench comprising Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justices R.V. Raveendran and J.M. Panchal is hearing petitions challenging the Sethusamudram Ship Channel Project on the ground that its implementation would damage Ramar Sethu.

Acting on Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy's application, the court on August 31, 2007 restrained the Centre from taking up dredging across Ramar Sethu. Final arguments on the petitions began on Thursday.

Historical evidence

Appearing for petitioners the Dandi Swami Sri Vidyananda Bharati and AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa, Mr. Venugopal said even assuming that Ramar Sethu was a natural formation, there was historical evidence to show that this bridge was used by the people of India and Sri Lanka as a link between the two nations. Any structure that was more than 100 years old, natural or man made, could be declared a national monument by the Archaeological Survey of India.

He said, "800 million people in India believe that Ramar Sethu was a bridge built by Lord Ram. Can the court go into the issue whether Lord Ram existed or whether the bridge was constructed by the God?"

Citing an example, counsel said: "People [particularly Christians] believe that Jesus Christ was crucified at a particular place. Can this be probed or gone into by the court? These are all related to people's faith which cannot be probed by the court or the government."

He quoted a National Institute of Ocean Technology report indicating that Ramar Sethu was a man-made structure, dating back to antiquity. "This being so, Ramar Sethu deserves to be declared an 'ancient monument' under the provisions of the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, 1904 and to be preserved and protected in accordance with the Act."

To a question from Justice Raveendran whether the structure could not be destroyed even partially for the sake of economic development of the country, Mr. Venugopal said: "The Red Fort in Delhi is declared a national monument. Even if one stone is removed or a portion of the wall is demolished, it would lose the character of a national monument." The structure should be preserved as it existed.

The Chief Justice asked counsel whether the petitioners had made any application before the ASI for declaring Ramar Sethu a national monument. He also pointed out that the project was cleared in 1999 after inviting objections and no one opposed it then. Dr. Swamy intervened and said the project was cleared only in 2004 and he had written several letters to the Minister concerned and other authorities urging that Ramar Sethu be preserved.

Duty to nation

Mr. Venugopal said it was not a question of some one raising an objection. The Centre owed a duty to the nation and on its own it could declare a structure an ancient monument and take steps to preserve and protect it. The Chief Justice said, "Sometimes ASI may not be aware of all the structures and such a declaration is made on the basis of people's representations. The ASI can do it on its own also."

Counsel said: "If the [Sethu] project is allowed to be continued and Ramar Sethu is destroyed, the petitions would become infructuous and the situation would become irreversible. That would be a sad day for this country."

Earlier, senior counsel Sriram Panchu, Chennai lawyer, appearing for petitioner O. Fernandez, cited various reports and said environment impact assessment, risk evaluation and disaster management studies had not been done properly before the project was cleared. Arguments will continue on May 6.

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