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Government passes Sethusamudram ball to Supreme Court


New Delhi : The government Thursday decided to let the Supreme Court decide if the controversial Adam’s Bridge, coming in the way of the Sethusamudram shipping canal project, was man made or a natural formation.

The Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) also decided to seek the removal of a judicial stay on the project that has run into stiff opposition on grounds that it will damage the bridge that Hindu groups say was built by Lord Rama.

It was the second time this week that the CCPA met to reach a consensus on a 90-page draft affidavit stating the government’s position on the divisive project. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chaired the meeting.

Official sources told IANS that the government had also left to the Supreme Court to decide the option of suggesting a new survey to decide whether or not the Adam’s Bridge, in the narrow Palk Strait dividing India and Sri Lanka, was man made or a natural formation.

The government is expected to submit the revised affidavit to the apex court next week.

According to Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi, the Supreme Court should rule if the shipping canal, which seeks to cut the distance between India’s western and eastern coasts, can be built or not, on the strength of technical and scientific evidence.

“We have left the answer to the Supreme Court and we will agree to whatever they say,” Singhvi told reporters here, reflecting the government’s thinking. “We never said anything about Lord Rama existed or not.”

Culture Minister Ambika Soni said separately: “The government has decided that the shipping ministry would be responsible for readying the affidavit asking for a vacation of the stay on dredging work.”

The project aims to shorten the sea route between the eastern and western coasts of India. Presently, all ships sailing between the two regions have to go past Sri Lanka.

The canal has also run into criticism from green activists who say the dredging in the narrow sea will seriously damage marine life.

But the most vocal attack on the canal have been mounted by Hindu groups and political parties that believe the canal will end up damaging the Adam’s Bridge, to which they attach religious significance.

The government approved the canal project in May 2005. But it soon ran into trouble, and dredging work had to be suspended.

The canal has sparked differences between Ambika Soni, who is also tourism minister, and Shipping Minister T.R. Baalu of the DMK. The DMK is a strong backer of the shipping project.

The culture ministry is advocating a cautious government line on the issue. The shipping ministry wants the government to state in the affidavit that the bridge had been formed naturally.

Both Ambika Soni and Baalu spoke at Thursday’s CCPA meeting. Among those who attended were External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Energy Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj.

Last year, the government withdrew its affidavit stating that the bridge was a natural formation after it was widely seen as challenging the existence of Hindu god Rama.

The government needs to take a stand on the issue because several people have petitioned the Supreme Court against the project.

On Jan 31, the Supreme Court granted another four weeks of extension to the government to file its affidavit.