Thursday, May 1, 2008

SC told to avert national tragedy by protecting Rama Setu

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.

Anti-Setu lobby invokes faith
2 May 2008, 0259 hrs IST , TNN

NEW DELHI: The Centre may end up dealing with sticky issues of religion and faith in SC to justify its eagerness to go ahead with the controversial Sethusamudram Shipping Channel Project, virtually stalled because of a judicial stay on dredging Ram Setu or Adam's Bridge.

It had avoided dealing with these issues in its affidavit saying matters of faith and religion could not dictate state policies. However, the petitioners, challenging the validity of the project, used faith and religion extensively on Thursday to demand declaration of Ram Setu as a national monument.

A Bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justices R V Raveendran and J M Panchal began the final hearing on a bunch of petitions which by conservative estimates is expected to last at least two weeks. This means the court would give its verdict on the petitions rather than decide the request of the Centre for early vacation of the eight-month-old interim stay that restrained the Centre from harming the Ram Setu.

If petitioner O Fernandes through senior advocate Sriram Panchu faulted the project on the ground of its adverse impact on environment — the project being done in a marine sanctuary housing rare sea-cows and corals — senior advocate K K Venugopal, appearing for a Kanchi Mutt monk and AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa, said the project involving dredging of Ram Setu hit at the root of the belief of 800 million Indians that Lord Ram had built the bridge.

People's belief, coupled with the existence of the underwater structure which many also believed was used as a bridge by people of India and Sri Lanka since time immemorial to cross the sea, cast a duty on the government to protect it as an ancient monument.

The Bench said: "Assuming that it is man-made and assuming it to be an ancient monument, should it prevent the government from setting up a developmental project?"

Venugopal said: "Under law no one is allowed to take out a single brick from an ancient monument. Developmental projects are necessary for the progress of the country, but not at the cost of ancient civilisation." He then counter questioned. "Can anyone question whether Jesus Christ was actually crucified over a mound at a particular place? None would, for billions believe in the place and the incident."

The Bench asked the petitioners whether anyone ever had actually petitioned the government, especially the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), for declaring Ram Setu as an ancient monument. Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy said he had sent a letter to this effect to the culture minister who on the floor of Parliament had said that his request had been forwarded to the ASI.

Venugopal said both the Kanchi Mutt monk and Jayalalithaa had made specific prayers to this effect and recalled that a petition signed by 35 lakh people was sent to the President seeking declaration of Ram Sethu as an ancient monument.

While replying to these arguments, the Centre is bound to dwell into the issues of faith and religion. However, in its February 29 affidavit, the Centre had steered clear of the controversy while seeking SC's permission to resume dredging of the Setu.
Venugopal says Ram Setu cannot be demolished without ASI report
New Delhi, May 01 Ram Setu, also known as Adam's Bridge, cannot be demolished without ascertaining through a scientific study conducted by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) whether it is man-made or a natural formation, senior Counsel K K Venugopal today contended before the Supreme Court. Mr Venugopal also contended before a bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justices R V Raveendran and J M Panchal that it was strange that the Centre was not prepared to investigate whether Ram Setu is an ancient monument and was spending huge amounts of public money on Sethusamudram Project, having an estimated cost of over Rs 2400 crore.
Sethusamudram has a length of 270 km, out of which Ram Setu is 31 meters long. According to Mr Venugopal, who appeared for Dandi Swami and former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa also, Government owed a duty to the people of the country that before demolishing Ram Setu, it convinced itself that the bridge is only a natural formation and not man-made. He also drew attention to the alleged callousness of the Government and efforts to avoid convincing study by ASI to find out whether Ram Setu is man-made and sought to know from the Government what would happen if the study confirms that Ram Setu is man-made after it has been demolished.
Quoting from the report of former Director General of Geological Survey of India, Mr Venugopal contended that there was evidence of human habitation in the vicinity of Ram Setu. Pleading for rejection of the committee report which is headed by a man who is monitoring the progress of Setusamudram project on behalf of the Government, Mr Venugopal contended that the report could not be accepted as it ran counter to the facts admitted by the Government in its own affidavit.
According to Mr Venugopal, the Government has categorically stated in its affidavit that no study has been carried out to find out whether Ram Setu is manmade or a natural formation.
Earlier, Shriram Kunju appearing for another petitioner, contended before the court that the Government has not conducted any comprehensive environment impact assessment, disaster management or Tsunami impact as a result of the ongoing project. He also contended that even the provisions of Pollution Control Act and Wildlife Act have been ignored.
The petitoners are seeking a declaration from the apex court that Ram Setu is a monument of national heritage and should not be destroyed.
Notably, former Union Minister Subramanian Swamy in his application levelled serious allegations against Union Shipping and Transport minister T R Baalu alleging that he and his family members are having huge pecuniary interest in the project.
The petitoners are pressing that Setusamudram bridge should not pass through Alignment six as it will necessitate the removal of Ram Setu and the project must take an alternative route.
According to Dr Swamy, daughter of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, Kanimozhi, a Rajya Sabha member also has vested financial interest in the project and this is why the Government is in a tearing hurry to complete the project without caring for the faith and sentiments of 80 million people of this country who believe that Ram Setu was constructed by Lord Rama to reach Sri Lanka.
Setusamudram project, when completed, will save three days of navigation time for the ships sailing between Sri Lanka and Indian coast.
The arguments remained inconclusive and will continue next week.
The Central Government is pressing for vacation of an interim stay granted by the apex court on August 31 last year directing the Government not to damage Ram Setu in any manner while carrying out dredging activity.- Bureau Report
Published: Thursday, May 01, 2008

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