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SC prevents Ram Setu from damage

SC restrains the government from causing any damage to the mythological Ram Setu (bridge) off India's southern tip that would be destroyed for constructing a navigational sea route.

delhi Updated: Aug 31, 2007 20:04 IST

The Supreme Court on Friday restrained the government from causing any damage to the mythological Ram Setu (bridge) off India's southern tip that would be destroyed for constructing a navigational sea route.

A bench of Justices BN Agarwal and PP Naolekar, however, allowed the government to continue dredging the peak of Ram Setu or Adam's Bridge in the narrow sea between Rameswaram in India and Talaimannar in Sri Lanka, but without causing any damage to it.

"Till Sep 14, the alleged Adam's Bridge or the Ramarsethu will not be damaged in any manner. The dredging activity may be carried out but without damaging the bridge," the bench ordered the government after a two-hour-long hearing of an interim application by former union minister Subramanian Swamy.

Swami had approached the court saying he apprehended that plans may be afoot to blow apart the bridge that Hindus consider holy to pave way for the Sethusamudram ship canal.

He said that he had on Aug 26 visited Rameswaram where some fishermen told him that the government has begun drilling holes in the bridge area to fill it with research developed explosive to blow it apart.

Terming Swamy's fears as "undue apprehensions", Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam urged the bench not to accede to his request as it would impede the pace of the ongoing Sethusamudram project.

Denying that the government had any plans to blow apart Adam's Bridge with explosives, Subramaniam however added that the Sethusamudram Corporation Limited, which is executing the project, was presently dredging the Adam's Bridge area. He said the bridge was actually a natural shallow undersea ridge, existing at a depth of 1.5 to 3.5 m below the water level.

Asked by the bench, if the dredging would damage the Adam's Bridge, the government law officer was unable to give a categorical assurance.

Pleading against interfering with the execution of the project, Subramaniam said that the government was willing to file a detailed affidavit on Saturday and would like it to start hearing the matter from next week so that all obstacles to the project were removed for good.

Swamy, however, contended that the government wanted to go ahead with plans to blow up the bridge in the meantime.

Apparently inclined to grant a positive legal relief to Swamy, the bench asked the government whether several petitions challenging the Sethusamudram project and pending before the court would become meaningless if some damage is caused to the bridge during the time consuming adjudication of the issue.

"What will the court decide if something happens to the bridge," the bench asked.

Earlier on July 17, a bench headed by Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan, acceding to a central government plea, had transferred all petitions pending in the Madras High Court against the Sethusamudram project, to itself.

The bench had also asked the government to file an affidavit to explain whether the Ram Setu could be declared a national monument after making minor alterations in the project's intended course.

Readily agreeing to the bench's directions, Subramaniam had promised that the government in its affidavit would also detail the environmental studies on the Rs 25 billion project.

While a batch of petitions in the Madras High Court has sought certain minor alterations in the project's course to protect the bridge, a petition in the apex court has raised serious doubts over the environmental impact of the channel.

India does not have continuous navigational sea route around its peninsula through its own territorial waters due to the shallow undersea ridge or Adam's Bridge.

Ships calling at Indian ports on the east coast have to go around Sri Lanka - an additional distance of 254 to 424 nautical miles and an additional time of 18 to 30 hours. The canal project was cleared by the central government in 2005.

Some Hindus believe Adam's Bridge to be the 'Puranik Ramar Sethu' built by Lord Rama's army of monkeys and bears to cross over to Sri Lanka to rescue his wife Sita who was abducted by demon king Ravana.