The Union government told the Supreme Court on Friday that it will not touch the Ram Sethu, an underwater coral formation in the Indian Ocean referred in mythology Ramayana, for the implementation of the Sethusamudram Ship Channel Project.
The government said cutting a route through the Ram Sethu, also known as Adam’s Bridge, would be a cause of “socio-economic disadvantage”.
This is part of a one-page affidavit filed by the Shipping Ministry almost four years after the Supreme Court asked the government to “come clean” on the choice of the project’s route and whether it would damage the Ram Sethu.
BJP leader Dr. Subramanian Swamy had, as early as 2014, asked the apex court to verify whether a Cabinet decision was taken to “not touch” the Ram Sethu for the project.
Mr. Swamy mentioned his plea again on Friday before a Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra.
Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand told the court that an affidavit had been filed stating the government’s position.
The affidavit said instead of Alignment 6 (the route which cuts through the Ram Sethu), the government would explore an “alternative”.
“The government of India intends to explore an alternative to the earlier alignment of Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project without affecting/damaging the Adam’s Bridge/Ram Sethu in the interest of the nation,” the Ministry affidavit said.
In 2016, the apex court granted Mr. Swamy liberty to approach the court if the Centre as much as “touched” the Ram Sethu during the project implementation.
Mr. Swamy had requested the court for mandamus to direct the government “to follow any other alternative route or alignment without affecting or destroying or demolishing the historic and sacred place Ram Sethu”.
Formation of committee
Acting on the suggestions of the Supreme Court, the government appointed a committee under R.K. Pachauri to study whether an alternative route to Alignment 6 was feasible.
The committee was to consider if construction of the project was viable along Alignment 4A, an alternative route running on land north of Dhanushkodi, thereby avoiding any chances of affecting the Ram Sethu,
The court then reserved its judgment until such time the government got Alignment 4A evaluated and a report submitted to it.
The committee referred the question of Alignment 4A to the Goa-based National Institute of Oceanography (NIO).
Mr. Swamy had alleged that the NIO completed the study and handed over a report to the government in March 2009.
He had voiced apprehensions that the report may never be submitted in the Supreme Court as the consequences may be to the scrap the project itself.
The court also wanted to know the government’s position on whether the ancient Ram Sethu could be declared a national monument.