BJP, DMK MPs clash on Sethusamudram project


New Delhi : Parliamentarians Friday were locked in verbal battle for the second day over the Sethusamudram canal project off the Tamil Nadu coast, which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) maintains would destroy an ancient bridge that once linked India and Sri Lanka.

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While the BJP MPs, led by deputy leader V.K. Malhotra, wanted the government to stop the project, the DMK MPs refused to allow the opposition to raise the issue in the Lok Sabha.

Speaker Somnath Chatterjee had to adjourn the house for an hour as the verbal battles continued despite his repeated pleas. The MPs had blocked the house proceedings over the same issue Thursday.

Raising the issue, Malhotra accused the government of attempting to destroy evidence of the existence of a mythological bridge ‘Ram Setu’ as described in the Hindu epic Ramayana, but which they claim exists.

“We are not against the project. But it should not damage the Ram Setu,” Malhotra said.

The speaker allowed the BJP leaders to raise the issue despite the DMK’s cries that the matter was sub-judice.

A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has been filed by a Hindu organisation with the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court demanding immediate scrapping of the project. The petitioner has claimed that US space agency NASA had the bridge carbon dated in the Indian Ocean as 1.7 million years old.

Shipping Minister T.R. Balu of the DMK, who sought permission of the speaker to object to the BJP raising the issue but was blocked by Malhotra, was seen gesturing to his party men suggesting them to disrupt the BJP leader’s speech.

The Rs.24 billion offshore shipping canal is designed to link the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar between India and Sri Lanka by creating a shipping canal through a 167 km-channel and reducing sailing time considerably.