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.