In a decision that is in keeping with its political objectives while also addressing environmental concerns, the Indian government has decided not to go ahead with the original alignment of Sethusamudram Shipping Canal project or any other alignment that damages the Ram Sethu or Adam’s Bridge.
The canal was proposed by the UPA, more particularly by DMK that held charge of the shipping portfolio, and was vigorously opposed by BJP on the grounds that this will harm the Ram Sethu associated with Lord Ram’s passage to Sri Lanka.
Environmentally, the project was criticised for endangering the fragile marine bio-diversity of the waters separating Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka.
Advocacy of the Ram Sethu meshes with BJP’s attempts to create a Hindutva vote in Tamil Nadu and Kerala while appealing to local tradition. The decision to file a fresh affidavit in the Supreme Court making this stand clear was taken by Indian PM Narendra Modi on Wednesday during his meeting with a few Cabinet colleagues, sources said.
“The shipping ministry will now put a detailed proposal for approval of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) to file a fresh affidavit. Once the affidavit is approved, it will be submitted in the Supreme Court,” a source said. Shipping minister Nitin Gadkari has said in 2014 that the “sacred structure associated with Lord Ram” won’t be damaged at any cost and his ministry was exploring other options.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to take up the case late next month. Since 2013, the case had come up for hearing twice, but the hearing was adjourned. The government targets to submit the fresh affidavit before the next date of hearing.
“Very soon I will get the Namo Govt to say in SC that they will not touch Ram Sethu and will make it a National Heritage Monument,” tweeted BJP law maker Subramanian Swamy, a few hours after the government decided to file fresh affidavit. Swamy is one of the petitioners.
Government officials said the new affidavit would suggest alternative routes for developing the channel so that the Ram Sethu is not touched. The shipping ministry had earlier engaged RITES to suggest the alternative routes through the existing Pamban channel. At present, the channel has three meters’ draft and only 1,000 tonnes vessels can sail through. According to estimates, deepening the channel with Rs 900 crore investment could allow ships of 10,000 tonnes to sail through.
UPA-I had courted a major controversy after it had filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court stating that there was no proof of Ram Sethu being a place of worship. Later it was withdrawn.