Legal Correspondent

“It is for the court to resolve contentious issues in the context of available evidence”

Issues of faith cannot be resolved by taking recourse to science or scientific evidence

State should not be called upon to respond to such issues, except in recognising their existence

New Delhi: The Centre has asserted in the Supreme Court that it is not feasible to consider an alignment alternative to the existing one for the Sethusamudram Ship Channel project. It wants the court to vacate the interim stay on dredging across Adam’s Bridge (Ramar Sethu) so that the project could be implemented.

“Not man made”

Along with its new affidavit filed on Friday, the Centre annexed the report of eminent persons stating there was no evidence to prove that Ramar Sethu was man made, and that it was only a natural formation. The case comes up for further hearing on March 5.

Acting on the application by Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy, the court on August 31, 2007 restrained the Centre and the Sethusamudram Corporation from causing any damage to Adam’s Bridge, while permitting dredging to continue.

In its response to Dr. Swamy’s petition, the Centre filed an affidavit in September last stating the “contents of Valmiki Ramayana, Ramcharitmanas by Tulasidas and other mythological texts cannot be said to be a historical record to incontrovertibly prove the existence of the characters or the occurrence of the events depicted therein.” However, following widespread furore, the Centre withdrew the affidavit and sought time to come out with its stand on the Ramar Sethu issue.

The present affidavit, approved by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and filed by A.P.V.N. Sarma, Shipping Secretary, maintained that the existing ‘Alignment No. 6’ was the result of a comprehensive and careful examination of all relevant considerations since 1956. It was backed by sound environmental, navigational, engineering and trans-boundary considerations with due regard for preservation of the fishery potential in the area and welfare of fishermen.

On Dr. Swamy’s contention that the Centre’s should indicate what investigation had been done and whether Ramar Sethu could be declared a national monument or not, the Centre said: “Archaeological investigations/studies have to be carried out as per established procedures and certain national/international principles, guidelines and legislation.

Since no archaeological studies have been conducted, it is not possible to predict the outcome in the event such investigations are carried out.”

“Misconceived objections”

Asserting that the decision to implement the project was taken after due deliberations, the affidavit pointed out that it had been considered and pursued by successive governments of varying political ideologies but it was now being opposed on misconceived and unsubstantiated pleas.

The only project activity, which was going on in the area of Adam’s Bridge formation, was dredging of a mere 300 metres out of approximately 30,000 metres. Subsequent to the interim stay, dredging was continuing only in the Palk Strait region.

Presenting the recommendations of the committee of eminent persons on the structure of Adam’s Bridge, viz. that it was not made made, the affidavit said issues of faith could not be resolved by taking recourse to science or scientific evidence.

“India is a secular state and respects all religions and religious faiths and beliefs. A secular state cannot espouse the cause of any religion, faith or belief.

In a multireligious, multicultural society, the state cannot and should not be called upon to determine issues of faith.

The state respects all religions and faiths, but cannot make them the basis and instrument of state policy. The Union of India is of the belief that it should not be called upon to respond to issues of faith, except in recognising their existence.”

Refuting the allegations of political considerations, the Centre said, “It is now for the court to resolve the contentious issues raised by the petitioners in the context of evidence available,” and pleaded that the interim stay be vacated.

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