Centre Govt won’t take stand on Ram Setu, asks Supreme Court to decide
The Central government refused to take any point of view on the issue of announcing the mythological Ram Setu a national monument and, rather, demanded the Supreme Court to take a call. The government would stand by its 2008 affidavit, in which it held that it honoured all religions but it was of view that it should not be called upon to react to the matters of faith, except in realizing their being.
Rama Setu – Sethusamudram project Controversy in detail…
What is Rama Setu?
- Adam’s Bridge or Rama’s Bridge or Rama Setu.
- It is a chain of limestone shoals, b/w Pamban Island, also known as Rameswaram Island, off the southeastern coast of Tamil Nadu, India, and Mannar Island, off the northwestern coast of Sri Lanka.
- Geological evidence suggests that this bridge is a former land connection b/w India and Sri Lanka.
- The bridge is 18 miles (30 km) long and separates the Gulf of Mannar (southwest) from the Palk Strait (northeast).
- It was discovered by NASA space missions including the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission in February 2000. The mission beamed photographs that clearly showed a bridge-like link in the region.
- The Rama Setu has spiritual significance, and it is believed that the Lord Rama and his army (vaanar sena) had built it some 17,25,000 years ago.
What is Sethusamudram project?
- The Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project was inaugurated by Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh on July 2, 2005 at Kodiakarai near Vedaranyam in Madurai, in the Indian State of Tamil Nadu.
- The project aims to build a ship channel in the shallow portion of the sea to connect the Gulf of Mannar and the Bay of Bengal through the Palk Bay via north of Adam’s Bridge.
- This would provide a continuous navigable sea route around the Indian Peninsula.
- The shipping channel is proposed to be 30 m wide, 12 m deep and 167 km long.
What is the issue all about?
- The Janta party President Subramanium Swamy had filed a plea for declaring the mythological Rama Sethu in the Palk Strait be announced a ‘National Monument’.
- The Supreme Court halted work at Ram Setu in August 2007 on an application filed by Mr Swamy who argued that the there were deep illegalities rooted in the project.
- Mr Swamy also alleged that the execution of the project will seriously damage the mythological bridge.
- The Supreme Court on March 27, 2012 had asked the central government to unambiguously state whether the mythological Rama Sethu could be announced a ‘National Monument’.
- The Supreme Court had also directed the Central Government to lay before it the report of the group headed by environmental expert R.K. Pachauri on the viability of executing the Sethusamudram project off Dhanushkodi, a town at the southern tip of the Rameswaram Island of the Tamil Nadu.
Now, the Central government refused to take any point of view on the issue of announcing the mythological Ram Setu a National Monument and, rather, demanded the Supreme Court to take a call.
What are the proposed benefits of the Sethusamudram project?
- It is pointed out that though Indian subcontinent’s southern part is surrounded by sea, the coast of India does not have a continuous navigation channel connecting the east and west coasts. At present the ships coming from the west coast of India has to navigate around Srilankan coast to go to Eastern ports. This is because the existing water way (lying in between Indian subcontinent and Srilanka) is shallow and not suitable for voyage of ships.
- The proposed channel will allow ships and boats to navigate in the passage between India and Sri Lanka without having to circle Sri Lanka (as is being done currently).
- This may save about 400 nautical miles voyage on the West Coast.
- This project will connect the National Sea Route.
- This canal will shorten the length of the sea route for ships. Rs. 21 crore per year for fuel expenditure of ships will be saved.
- This may benefit all the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu economically and may not be good for Srilankan Ports.
- Another aspect is that Indian Navy ships also have to navigate around Srilanka.
Thus, it is held that the project is of strategic military importance to India, in addition to having economical motives.
What are the criticisms of the proposed Sethusamudram project?
- The project has far reaching strategic and economic implications for Sri Lanka as this project may benefit all the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu economically and may not be good for Srilankan Ports.
- The Sethusamudram Project will create an unavoidable by-pass that would inevitably divert this sea traffic through India’s own maritime waters.
- Many experts have demanding that the ship channel project itself be scrapped as it has become a White Elephant. Several people have repeatedly questioned the financial viability of the Sethusamudram Ship Channel Project. They have pointed out that only nominal time and money would be saved — and that too by some vessels on certain routes.
- Many experts and Hindu Organizations have held that the proposed project will damage the Ram Setu.
Why so much stress on declaring Ram Setu a “National Monument”?
- There is a stress from certain individuals, group, and organizations for awarding “National Monument” status to Ram Setu, so as to ensure its protection. It is alleged that the proposed Sethusamudram project will damage the mythological bridge. Thus, declaring it as a National Monument will call for either termination of the Sethusundaram project or a change in the proposed channel’s route.