Thursday, May 8, 2008

Why should Rama Setu be protected? -- a para-legal excursus

Why should Rama Setu be protected? – a para-legal excursus

Here is an account of the happenings in the Supreme Court on Rama Setu protection case and the consequent introspections on why Rama Setu should be protected despite the bogus, baseless arguments advanced on grounds of non-existent abhyudayam.

When Court asked Senior Advocate Shri Parasaran as to why he was arguing on ‘this’ side (that is, the side of the petitioners seeking protection of Rama Setu and hence, Dharma), he responded emotionally that he is at the fag-end of his life and career and this was an opportunity provided for him to protect dharma and he also told the Court that this was an opportunity for the Court also to participate in this sacred responsibility of protecting dharma.

When Court asked Dr. Subramanian Swamy how SC can overcome the jurisdiction problem of questioning policy decisions or economic issues, Dr. Swamy responded effectively and convincingly that it was incumbent on the court to intervene when a fraud or gross illegality can be demonstrated that the economic viability of the project was a fiction created with baseless data and that the project was fradulent. He went on to demonstrate that the project will be in the red for Rs. 56 crores in Year 1 and Rs. 150 crores in Year 9 and thereafter using the figures given by the Union of India in their documents. These losses are, in fact, understatements. The actual losses will be much larger if social costs are reckoned (as required under law), if maintenance dredging costs are fairly computed and if security costs (both capital and maintenance costs) are included in the project costs. Dr. Swamy also demonstrated the need to make Hon’ble TR Baalu a respondent because of conflict of interest with involvement in stevedoring or marine product export companies.

Senior Advocate Soli Sorabjee responded effectively to the stupid question which stated that the bhumaata is sacred, the mountains are sacred, Ganga is sacred, trees are sacred that this perception should not stop removal of stones or building of bridges. This was rebutted effectively citing the responsibility of the State under Article 25 to protect Religious Freedom and not to destroy, by desecration, the very character of the Rama Setu which is a bridge built by Rama to establish dharma. Not an inch, not a piece of rock from this ancient monument can be touched by any power on earth. Section 295 of Criminal Procedure Code makes it a cognizable offence to offend the sentiments of crores of Hindus worldwide. The Court was also told that Ganga Sagar and Sethu are places of worship in the Indian Ocean. Skandapurana which is the sacred text of identified teerthasthaanas and puja vidhaanam prescribed the worship of Rama Setu and the s’ivalinga installed in the middle of Rama Setu uttering Setumadhava and Ramanatha (Ashtakshari and Panchakshari mantras) and walking on the Setu. Every ashadha amavasya day every year, over 5 lakh pilgrims gather at the Setu tirtham and offer tarpanam to pitrus – ancestors are worshipped with the sankalpa which starts: Sri rama rama rameti… He is Maryada purushottama, Ramayana is the aadi kaavya, There can be no Ramayana without Setubandhana which is the very symbol of what can be accomplished with will and determination and the symbol of establishment and protection of dharma. This is a memory venerating Sri Rama as vigrahavaan dharmah (the very embodiment of dharma), the paramaatman in the role of an avatara to demonstrate dharma in action.

The battle is just joined. The Setu has to be declared as an Ancient Monument and World Heritage. Setu which has protected the nation’s coastline and symbolizes the unity and integrity of the nation cannot be desecrated like the Taliban demolishing the Bamiyan Buddha calling it mere stone. Setu also makes us remember Sri Rama, Vigrahavaan dharma, the very embodiment of dharma. Setu is not mere stone bridge, it is the very identity, the very core of Sanatana Dharma from time immemorial, the very embodiment of Dharma identity. It just cannot be touched even by cutting a one centimetre furrow.

So many multi-disciplinary issues were joined in the court proceedings. Over 8000 pages of evidence and arguments and case laws were presented. The Court had the obligation to recognize the enormity and stupendous nature of this continuum of faith, belief and worship and respect the sentiments of crores of people, as a civil society and restoring the confidence of the people in the institutions which they have created to run this samajam. A fence cannot be allowed to eat away the crop. Institutions exist only at the service of and at the responsibilities entrusted to these institutions by the people.

Many teams of persons have contributed to this extraordinary Hindu unity and effort. Starting with Shri D. Kuppuramu who founded the Rameshwaram Rama Setu Protection Movement, Senior Advocate Shri TV Ramanujam, counsel for Shri Rama Gopalan of Hindu Munnani and Dr. Subramanian Swamy who got the Chief Justice of Madras High Court to issue the directions of HC on 19 June 2007 asking for the declaration of Rama Setu as an Ancient Monument and to ask for proceeding with any project without demolishing or desecrating Rama Setu has just been reconfirmed by the highest court of the land by the directions issued on these two momentous issues.

The directions are historic and let us hope that one of the institutions which we have given to ourselves, respects the Law of the land and does not play games with the directions (as was done by withdrawing the bogus affidavit of ASI and thereafter making false promises unfulfilled).

The responsibility is enormous to use this opportunity given to us by Sri Rama to educate the youngest nation of the world, the 35% of the population which is less than 15 years of age, to realize the great heritage of Dharma and the importance and significance of the two great Itihaasas, Ramayana, the Aadi kaavya and Mahabharata. Sri Rama, Sri Krishna and Sri Mahes’vara united north and south, east and west and across every nook and corner of Bharata Varsha. They adorn the lithographed version of the Constitution of India published by the Govt. of India with exquisite illustrations by the artist, Shri Nandalal Bose.

No institution, not even the Supreme Court, can pass on the buck and refuse to entertain issues related to National security citing jurisdictional boundaries. In this case, ample evidence was provided on the national security implications of any decision to desecrate Rama Setu and the social upheaval that such a move will entail, destroying the very fabric of the samajam and the constitutional framework which we have given to ourselves.

The State cannot abdicate its responsibility to protect the ancient heritage by citing dubious investigation problems. The evidence is overwhelming: Rama Setu is a sacred place, a world heritage. Until this is recognized by one and all -- the organizations of governance and jurisprudence, the movement shall continue with redoubled vigour and determination. It is the court of the people that the protection of Rama Setu will be ensured. This is an occasion to recognise the possibility and ensure that it happens – the construction of a temple for Sri Rama in Ramajanmabhumi. As Srilanka, our neighbour, looks towards Bharatam, as the Indian Ocean Community beckons, let this be the start and renewal of Dharma renaissance, a start for Marine Economic Zones to benefit all the coastal people and lead to abhyudayam in their livelihood as a socio-cultural-ecomic imperative.

Dr. S. Kalyanaraman

Explore alternative alignment: court

Legal Correspondent (The Hindu, 9 May 2008)

This will help avoid controversy over damage to Sethusamudram project, says CJI

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Centre to explore the possibility of an alternative alignment or any other route for the Sethusamudram Shipping Channel Project without damaging Ramar Sethu and to consider whether an archaeological study could be conducted to declare Ramar Sethu a national monument.

Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, heading a three-judge Bench, asked senior counsel Fali Nariman, appearing for the Centre, to consider an alternative alignment and said that by this the government could avoid the controversy (of damaging Ramar Sethu).

The CJI’s suggestion came at the end of Thursday’s arguments on behalf of the petitioners. He told Mr. Nariman that “Subramanian Swamy and senior counsel C.S. Vaidyanathan had said an alternative alignment was not considered. Further, the direction given by the Madras High Court [before the petitions were shifted to the Supreme Court] that archaeological study must be conducted had not been implemented by the Centre.”

Mr. Nariman said, “after the High Court order, we have filed a comprehensive affidavit.” Justice Raveendran pointed out that the High Court order had not been quashed and the direction continued to remain and the Centre had not answered this. Mr. Nariman said he [the Centre] would consider the court’s suggestion in this regard.

On the petitions filed by Dr. Swamy and Rama Gopalan, the High Court on June 19, 2007 asked the Centre “to file a counter-affidavit explaining whether any study has been undertaken by the archaeological or any other department concerned in respect of Adam’s Bridge/Ramar Sethu and whether the said bridge can be regarded as a national monument. The Union of India should also explain whether the said project can be implemented without affecting Ramar Sethu by resorting to some other routes.” Since no affidavit had been filed on these aspects, the CJI asked the Centre to consider this and posted the matter for further hearing on July 22.

Can Ram Setu be monument, asks SC

PNS/ Agencies | 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.

Look for alternative to proposed Setu route: SC
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".

Top court: Check, is Ram Sethu monument?

New Delhi, May 8: The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Centre to consider conducting an archaeological survey to ascertain whether the Ram Sethu can be declared an ancient monument. The Supreme Court also wanted the government to explore the possibility of pushing the Sethusamudram project through other alignments which would not damage the Ram Sethu. The Supreme Court bench said that in the interregnum (the matter will be taken up for further hearing on July 22) the Centre can consider these two aspects as directed by the Madras high court on June 19, 2007.

Union tourism and culture as directed by the Madras high court on June 19, 2007. Union tourism and culture minister Ambika Soni had been insisting that unless an archaeological survey is conducted it cannot be determined whether the Ram Sethu is man-made or a natural formation. It is only after an archaeological survey that the Union culture ministry determines whether or not it is a heritage site.

K.G. Balakrishnan and comprising Justice R.V. Raveendran and Justice J.M. Panchal said, “There is a specific direction of the Madras high court that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) should carry out investigations on whether or not Ram Sethu is an ancient monument.”

The Supreme Court bench said Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy and senior advocate C.S. Vaidyanathan, while opposing the demolition of the Ram Sethu, put forward serious arguments for conducting an ASI probe and for carrying the project through other alignments . “You (should) also explore the possibility of carrying out the project through any other channels (alignments),” the bench said.

Appearing for the Centre, senior advocate Fali S. Nariman responded positively to the Supreme Court’s view. Dr Swamy, Mr C.S. Vaidyanathan and others, while arguing against the demolition of the Ram Sethu, contended it was possible to go ahead with the project through alternative alignments that will be economically more viable and cause no damage to the environment besides protecting the religious beliefs of Hindus, who consider the structure sacred.

Dr Swamy, who filed the petition in favour of declaring Ram Sethu a protected monument, had alleged that the expert committee of eminent persons appointed by the government to review the project resisted an ASI probe that the structure was man-made. While the senior politician was questioning the committee’s report, the bench said his prayer in the petition was only confined to the Rama Setu but he was arguing on the entire Sethusamudram project.

At this, Dr Swamy said, “If I prove that the project is illegal then the Ram Sethu will be protected.” He said he would stop if the Centre said the Ram Sethu would be protected. Dr Subramanian Swamy said he was touching other aspects of the project as the economics projected in the scheme was a “fraud”, public money was being misused and the public was being misled. court: Check, is Ram Sethu monument?

Satya Prakash, Hindustan Times

Email Author

New Delhi, May 08, 2008

First Published: 21:32 IST(8/5/2008)

Last Updated: 00:58 IST(9/5/2008)

Find a way around Ram Setu, Govt told

In a setback to the UPA government’s ambitious Setusamudram Shipping Canal Project, the Supreme Court on Thursday asked it to conduct an archaeological investigation to find out if ‘Ram Setu’ could be declared an ‘ancient monument’.

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan also asked the government to explore the possibility of adopting some alternative route/alignment for completing it without damaging the Ram Setu, as suggested by the petitioners opposing the project.

“There is a specific direction of the Madras High Court that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) should carry out investigations whether Ram Setu is an ancient monument or not,” the bench said. The court had already ordered that no damage be caused to the Ram Setu.

The latest development virtually puts the project — being pushed by UPA ally DMK — in a limbo. The government cannot proceed without presenting before the court the findings of the ASI and its decision regarding alternative routes. The ASI will examine if the Setu could be declared an ancient monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958.

In a way, the UPA government that had to withdraw its earlier affidavit denying the existence of Ram and Ram Setu as a manmade structure would heave a sigh of relief. It may indeed lose a few brownie points to the Opposition.

But at the same time, the Centre can put the issue on the backburner without offending the DMK, as the process ordered by the court may not be complete before the next round of assembly elections and the general election.

The court noted that Janata Party president Subramanium Swamy and Hindu Munnani senior advocate C.S. Vaidyanathan had advanced "serious" arguments for conducting an

ASI probe and for taking forward the project through some other route. The two and others opposed to the project submitted that they wouldn't oppose the project if it could be completed without damaging the Setu.

They argued that alternative alignments would be economically more viable and won't cause damage to the environment besides respecting the religious faith of crores of Hindus.

Vaidyanathan had suggested a route through Dhanushkodi by removing the landmass in an area of about 800 metres. It could start from where the present route i.e. alignment no.6 begins in the Gulf of Mannar and take a turn towards Dhanushkodi in the southern part of Rameshwaram island and finally meet the same alignment in the Palk Bay to avoid the Ram Setu' altogether. The court posted the case for hearing on July 22.

Save Sethu or scrap the project, says Swamy

Legal Correspondent (The Hindu, May 8, 2008)

Court must harmonise religious faith and development by directing government to take alternative alignment

Whether anybody goes to the middle of the sea to offer worship or not is secondary

Project not economically viable, it will be a security risk

New Delhi: The Sethusamudram Shipping Channel Project should be scrapped altogether if the government cannot proceed further without destroying Ramar Sethu (Adam’s Bridge), Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy argued in the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

“It is established and admitted by the respondents that a structure, that is natural or constructed and widely known for very long as Ramar Sethu, does exist but that its origins and nature have admittedly not been investigated yet despite overwhelming prima facie evidence that Ramar Sethu is a constructed causeway that fits the description in Valmiki’s Ramayana,” he told a Bench comprising Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justices R.V. Raveendran and J.M. Panchal.

As per ‘Images India’, a document of the National Remote Sensing Agency of the Ministry of Space under the Prime Minister’s Office, tabled in Parliament, “the structure of Ramar Sethu suggests that it may be man made and the bridge is seen as an example of ancient history linked to the Indian mythology,” Dr. Swamy said.

Ad on trains

He pointed out that a Tamil Nadu government advertisement on trains said: “The waters here [Rameswaram island] still carry the blessings of Lord Rama’s lotus feet because this is where the monkey army crossed over to Lanka to rescue Sita.”

The Centre wrote to the UNESCO urging that the Majuli Island in Assam be declared an ancient monument. “While so, why is the Centre hesitant to seek a declaration that Ramar Sethu is an ancient monument?”

“For people to decide”

Dr. Swamy said: “Whether anybody goes to the middle of the sea to offer worship or not is secondary. We worship the Sun god but we don’t go to the Sun. What is held to be sacred by a large number of people of this country must remain sacred and no sacrilege must be allowed by rupturing Ramar Sethu. This court cannot decide what is sacred. It is for the people of this country to decide what is sacred.”

He said: “Religious sensibilities and feelings of nearly a billion persons of Hindu faith and those of other religious persuasions, who respect the sanctity of faith, cannot be disregarded in a narrow pursuit of the project claiming to advance economic development on economic calculations.”

The Centre’s decision to select alignment 6 for implementing the project was “arbitrary, unreasonable and illegal.”

“Biased report”

Referring to the report of the Committee of Eminent Persons, Dr. Swamy said it “contains inferences that are not supported by data or studies and it is a biased report. Prof. Ramachandran, who headed this committee, had met Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi at a meeting held to protest the Supreme Court’s interim order of stay on dredging across Ramar Sethu.”

Delhi metro project

He pointed out that during the execution of the Delhi metro rail project, an objection was raised to the elevated structure near the Qutb Minar on the ground that vibrations during train movement would affect a tomb. Subsequently, the project was revised as an underground system involving an additional cost of Rs. 558 crore. “But this government will not care for millions of Hindus and wants to break Ramar Sethu.”

Dr. Swamy said the Sethu project would not be economically viable, besides being a security risk to the country. The court must harmonise religious faith and economic development by directing the government to carry out the project through an alternative alignment without touching Ramar Sethu; otherwise, it should be scrapped.

Combine two alignments

Earlier, senior counsel C.S. Vaidyanathan, appearing for Hindu Munnani leader Rama Gopalan, suggested with the help of a map that alignments 4 and 6 could be combined and the project implemented without affecting Ramar Sethu.

Further arguments will continue on Thursday.

“Breaking Ramar Sethu will be another scar like the Babri Masjid demolition”

J. Venkatesan (The Hindu, May 8, 2008)

Even if one mm of causeway is removed, it will amount to defiling the sacred place: Parasaran

New Delhi: “The Babri Masjid demolition [at Ayodhya] is a scar on Indian secularism that will never be removed. Similarly breaking Ramar Sethu will also leave a permanent scar on the Hindu faith and belief,” the former Attorney-General K. Parasaran said on Tuesday.

He was arguing before a Supreme Court Bench comprising Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justices R.V. Raveendran and J.M. Panchal, which is hearing petitions challenging the Sethusamudram Ship Channel Project on the ground that implementing it would cause damage to Ramar Sethu (Adam’s Bridge). Mr. Parasaran, appearing for Hindu Munnani leader Rama Gopalan, said: “Ramar Sethu is considered by large sections of believers a holy and a sacred place. That part of the sea in the area of Dhanuskodi, Rameswaram, Tirupulani and Devipatnam is considered a holy place by reason of the existence of Ramar Sethu, believed to have been constructed to enable Lord Rama to have passage to Sri Lanka. To interfere [with] or destroy even a part of the said causeway would be an interference with the right of liberty of belief, faith and worship.”

Earlier when Soli Sorabjee, former Attorney-General and senior counsel, was making his submissions, Justice Raveendran asked “whether even a small portion of Ramar Sethu [300 metres] can’t be touched for purposes of development.”

The judge said: “In our country, the Himalayas, Goverdhan and Tirupathi hills, rivers and land [Boomatha] are all worshipped. Do you mean to say that the land can’t be touched, dams can’t be constructed across rivers and hills can’t be touched for stones?”

Special sanctity

Answering this question, Mr. Parasaran said: “This is a matter of established customs and faith. An idol, object, place, river or city may be held sacred. Sethu and Ganga are considered the most sacred places in the country. Special sanctity is attached to the whole area of Sethu and we offer worship in four places — Dhanuskodi, Rameswaram, Tirupulani and Devipatnam — all connected with Lord Rama. You can’t defile a place which is considered holy. If you cut across Sethu, you are defiling that place. Even if one millimetre of Ramar Sethu is removed, it will amount to defiling the sacred place.”

He quoted extensively from various documents, texts and puranas which had a reference to Ramar Sethu as a place of worship, and said a duty was cast on the government to protect it.

When Mr. Parasaran was explaining the role assigned to each community in society, Justice Raveendran jocularly asked, “Are you arguing the reservation case or this case?”

Referring to the arguments of Mr. Sorabjee, who is appearing for S. Kalyanaraman, Mr. Parasaran said: “Before taking up this case, Mr. Sorabjee had read three volumes of Valmiki Ramayanam and the Ramayana written by C. Rajagopalachari.” Justice Raveendran retorted: “Do you expect judges also to become experts by reading these volumes.”

Public interest

Mr. Parasaran said “the present case involves two aspects of the public interest, viz. claim of right to religious belief, faith and worship, on the one hand, and the claim of economic and commercial development in the matter of providing convenient passage for ships [on the other]. Every attempt should be made to accommodate both aspects of the public interest. But there is complete abdication of responsibility and non-application of mind by the government.”

On August 31 last, the court, acting on Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy’s application, passed an interim order restraining the Centre from causing any damage to Ramar Sethu in carrying out the project. Among the other petitioners are AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa and the Dandi Swami, Sri Vidyananada Bharati.

It is the belief of the country that matters: Soli Sorabjee

Legal Correspondent (The Hindu, 7 May 2008)

New Delhi: A religious belief which is genuinely and conscientiously held over a long period by a substantial number of followers of a particular religion becomes an integral part of that religion and is entitled to protection under Article 25 of the Constitution (right to freedom of religion), senior counsel Soli Sorabjee argued in the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

“Religious feelings of the people are to be respected and not offended. It is the belief of Hindus that Ramar Sethu was constructed by Lord Rama and his followers who crossed the bridge to Lanka and retrieved Sita from the clutches of the demon Ravan. That indeed is the essential theme of the Ramayana, which is an article of faith with the Hindus.”

Mr. Sorabjee, appearing for S. Kalyanaraman in the Ramar Sethu case, said: “The issue before the court is not whether this belief can be historically or scientifically established. The court cannot sit in judgment on that belief. The court’s role is to determine whether this belief is genuinely or conscientiously held over a period of time by Hindus and if that be so it falls within the ambit of the freedom of religion guaranteed by Article 25.”

If worship and rituals were performed over a long period, these would get constitutional protection and the court could not interfere with it, he said.

Intervening, Justice R.V. Raveendran said: “Here it is not a question of rituals or worship. This principle can’t be extended to something which is under water. The length, width and size will matter. They [government] are not demolishing Ramar Sethu. They are saying only 300 metres of it would be cut. Will this change or affect the sanctity of the entire structure? Even trees are worshipped in this country. What is the philosophy and principle you are trying to say?”

Mr. Sorabjee said: “Don’t take extreme positions. We are not concerned with hill, mountain or lake. For over 1,500 years Ramar Sethu is in the minds of the people. Even the committee of eminent persons had said that this belief is deeply ingrained in the minds of the people. It is the belief of the country that matters. One has to see the circumstances and threat in the minds of those who hold that belief. Any object, however, trivial it may be, if it is connected with people’s religious belief it has to be protected.”

He said: “Ramar Sethu has acquired a special significance amongst the Hindus. Consequently, any state action which results in impairment or even partial destruction of Ramar Sethu and leads to extinction or diminution of the right to worship at Ramar Sethu as at present is per se violative of the guarantee of freedom of religion.”

Senior counsel C.S. Vaidyanathan, who along with K. Parasaran is appearing for Hindu Munnai leader Rama Gopalan, dwelt on an alternative alignment for carrying out the Sethusamudram project. “It is the faith of Hindus that a bridge was constructed by Lord Rama. By destroying Ramar Sethu, the fundamental character of the bridge will be lost and it will no longer be called a bridge. In the case of a mountain or a river, even if something is done, it will not change its character. But if you demolish Sethu, it will cease to be a bridge.”

The project could be implemented by considering alignment 4 and the cost would also be cheaper than alignment 6 but this aspect was not at all considered (The Centre says there is no alternative to the existing alignment 6.)

Mr. Vaidyanathan will continue his arguments on Wednesday.

Faith can’t be questioned or probed: Venugopal

J. Venkatesan (The Hindu, 2 May 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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