No mention of Ram Sethu in Indian Map: Baalu

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Chennai, Sep 22: Union Shipping Minister T R Baalu today said there was no mention about the 'Ram Sethu' in the Indian Map which showed only the Adams Bridge and added that the current alignment of the Sethu Samudram Shipping Canal Project (SSCP) was finalised by the previous BJP-led NDA Government at the Centre and the UPA Government was ''merely implementing it.' Accusing the Opposition of trying to instigate violence on the issue, Mr Baalu informed the press here that the Centre did not intend to hurt the religious feelings of the people.

''No one in the government will oppose any religious faith. The secular credentials will be upheld at any cost. Definitely we give equal importance to religious faiths of all people be it Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Muslims or any other religion.

''Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and the Union Government never intend to hurt any religion. We are for the development of this project. Only the Opposition is trying to stall it,'' he said.

As far as his Ministry was concerned, the SSCP was a settled issue and it would abide by the Supreme Court verdict on the Ram Sethu. On the controversial affidavit withdrawn by the Centre from the Supreme Court on the Ram Sethu, he said it was alleged one or two lines contained remarks against some religions. When the matter came to the notice of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, they said it had to be withdrawn immediately.

Asked who was behind the controversial affidavit, Mr Baalu said it was filed by the ASI which did not fall under the purview of his Ministry.

''Some human error has taken place and the government corrected it by withdrawing the affidavit immediately. But nobody is appreciating the government's action,'' he said and alleged the BJP was raking up the issue with an eye on the Gujarat elections.

On reports of stopping the dredging work, the minister said only dredging vessels from Adams Bridge Area had been moved to Palk Straits where the work was continuing. ''Since the matter is before the Supreme Court. I do not want to comment. We will put forth our arguments before it . We will also highlight all scientific issues, he added.

The distance between Thalaimannar and Dhanushkodi (Adams Bridge Stretch) was 30,000 metre of which the dredging was only for a length of 300 metre forming a mere one per cent of the total. ''We are not damaging anything,'' the Minister reiterated during the press conference. He accused the Opposition BJP with trying to create communal tension in the country on Ram Sethu. The SSCP would be a true story as it was a 150-year-old dream of the people of Tamil Nadu, he said.

Mr Baalu clarified the Apex Court had allowed dredging in the Palk Straits. Only work in one portion of the stretch (Adams Bridge) had been stayed. It did not mean the entire project was shelved.

The Opposition to the project was fuelled by the the BJP and its 'religious friends,' he claimed and appealed to them not to raise a hue and cry and compel the government to go for fresh alignment.

On Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi's remarks that he had no objection to a fresh alignment as long as the work on the project continued, Mr Baalu said he made the remarks out of anguish and motives should not be attributed to them. According to NASA, the Adams Bridge was a continuos stretch of sand shoals between two islands and he showed some photographs to substantiate his claims.

He also quoted the correspondence between Shipping and Environment Ministries during the NDA Regime which finalised the present alignment.Mr Baalu said the genisis of the alignment number six which was being implemented now lies in the BJP's decision during its regime and not in the UPA.

''We are only implementing it and there is no point in blaming the UPA Government for it. We have also spoken to all acharyas and explained the facts to them. We discussed and scrutinised the issue threadbare. Fourteen public hearings were conducted when the preliminary work on the project started in 1999.

Nobody had raised any objections in all these years and suddenly, they are raking up the issue in bid to create communal tension and with an eye on vote bank politics especially in the context of Gujarat Assembly elections.


UNI

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