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'I will resign if asked by PM or Sonia'

Written by: Staff

New Delhi, Sept 15: Tourism and Culture Minister Ambika Soni today said she was prepared to resign on the Sethusamudram Canal controversy if the Prime Minister and Congress President Sonia Gandhi asked her to do so.

''I will not take more than a minute to resign if the Prime Minister and Congress President Sonia Gandhi ask me to do so,'' Ms Soni told reporters.

She, however, qualified her remarks by saying that she had not felt the need to resign so far, but would do so if the Cabinet so wanted.

The minister also said that she had ordered an inquiry into the goof up made by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which filed a counter-affidavit in the Supreme Court on the Ram Sethu despite the fact that these had been deleted by her ministry.

''I had suggested three changes in the affidavit but one was not included in it,'' she pointed out, justifying the suspension of two ASI officials for it.

Ms Soni said the officials were suspended on the recommendations of ASI Director General Anshu Vaish, who inquired into the matter.

Asked whether the two officials were being made scapegoats, she vehemently refuted the suggestion.

''No official in my ministry, least of all the minister, would be made scapegoats. I will not allow it to happen. The aim is to fix accountability for it in my ministry,'' she said.

Ms Soni, who returned from Japan last evening, met Ms Gandhi this afternoon and clarified her ministry's position on the issue. ''I have sent all the relevant papers and documents to the Prime Minister's Office,'' she said. Asked whether the Law Ministry should also be held responsible for the faux pas, the minister said she would not comment on any other ministry.

''My only objective is to fix accountability in the matter in my own ministry,'' she pointed out.

Ms Soni said the ASI never conducted a survey on the Sethusamudram Canal nor had it the equipment to carry out such a survey. ''The ASI affidavit on Sethusamudram was based on the survey conducted by the Geological Survey of India (GSI) and the Space Application Centre.'' The minister also revealed that Ms Gandhi was unhappy with the developments in the ASI. ''I was informed about her displeasure while I was in Japan, and from there itself I initiated corrective actions,'' she said.

Meanwhile, official sources said Culture Secterary Badal K Das had served a notice on the ASI Director General, seeking an explanation on the retention of controversial portions of the affidavit filed by the ASI on the Ram Sethu in the Supreme Court despite the fact that they had been deleted by the ministry.

''Mrs Vaish has been asked to submit her reply by Tuesday,'' the sources said.

On September 13, the ASI had submitted its counter-affidavit to the Culture Ministry, wherein it had claimed that there was no sceintific basis for the historicity Lord Ram and other characters in the Ramayana as well as of the Ram Sethu (Adam's Bridge). The ministry, however, carried out three corrections, removing the controversial portions from the affidavit that was to be filed before the apex court.

Apparently, the portions deleted by the ministry were not taken out by the ASI in its counter-affidavit, which sparked protests from the BJP, forcing the government to withdraw its two affidavits on the Sethusamudram canal project.

Ms Soni said the inclusion of the portions in the affidavit, which were supposed to be removed, could have been a case of oversight.

Late last night, Mr Das suspended the two officials for what was described as ''their failure to carry out government instructions.'' Director (Administration) Chandrasekhar and Assistant Director (Monuments) V. Bankshi were suspened after an internal inquiry by the ASI DG held them responsible for not carrying out the corrections suggested by the Culture Ministry.


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