'Take alternative steps for Sethusamudram Proj'

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New Delhi, May 8: The Supreme Court today told the Central government to explore the possibility of taking an alternative route to complete the Rs 2400-crore Sethusamudram canal project so that Ram Setu is not damaged. Senior counsel F S Nariman, appearing for the Centre, agreed to convey the suggestion of Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan to the government for due consideration.

A three-judge bench headed by the Chief Justice also told the government to inform the court whether any scientific study had been undertaken by the Archaeological Survey of India(ASI) to ascertain whether the 25-km long Ram Setu, also known as Adam's Bridge, is a man made ancient monument of national heritage as per the directions of Madras High Court.

Earlier in the day, former Union Minister and Janata Party president Dr Subramanian Swamy prayed to the three-Judge bench comprising Chief Justice Balakrishnan and Justices R V Raveendran and J M Panchal to refer the petitions to the five-judge constitution bench for an authoritative pronouncement on the issue.

Dr Swamy also prayed to the court to direct the government to go back to the drawing board to redo the entire exercise all over again fairly, honestly and sincerly and get back to the court.

The Janata Party president also pleaded for issuing notice to Union Shipping and Transport Minister T R Baalu, to initiate contempt of court proceedings against him for making derogatory and contemptous remarks against the sitting judge Justice B N Agrawal for dragging the Tamil Nadu government into the controversy while directing the authorities, on August 31, last year, not to damage Ram Setu in any manner while carrying out dredging activities for completion of Sethusamudram canal project.

Dr Swamy made it clear before the court that his only concern was the protection of Ram Setu and if the Central government was prepared to give an undertaking that the 25-km long Setu shall not be demolished, he would immediately withdraw his petition .

The former Union Minister also prayed to the court to make Mr Baalu a party in the case as the DMK leader and his family members were the main beneficiaries in about Rs 2400 crore project .

The court while adjourning the hearing till July 22 , told the Central government ''you can explore the possibility of an alternative alignment for the canal. By this the government would like to avoid the controversy.'' Another senior counsel M N Krisnamani also opposed the government's move to use alignment six which involves the demolition of Ram Setu and pleaded for declaration of Ram Setu as a monument of national heritage as it involves the religious faith and belief of Hindus across the globe. According to belief, Ram Setu was constructed by Lord Rama to reach Sri Lanka to retrieve his wife Sita from the cluches of Ravana and any interference with this belief would violate the fundamental right of freedom of religion guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution.

Dr Swamy also told the court that the Central government had not taken any permission from the Sri Lankan government for completing the canal which would connect the Rameshwaram coast in Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan government could go to the International Court of Justice in this issue.

According to the Janata Party president, daughter of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi KaniMozhi, a Rajya Sabha member, is also a director of one the companies involved in the project.

Dr Swamy concluded by telling the court that the Centre was ignoring the advice of its own committee and also overlooked the concerns expressed by ex-Naval Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta and ex-DG Coast Guard about the national security according to whom this canal would facilitate LTTE activites in India and LTTE may set up its base at Kochi in Kerala.


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