Centre given two weeks to file Sethusamudram affidavit


New Delhi : The Supreme Court Wednesday granted two weeks to the central government to file a comprehensive affidavit in response to various lawsuits challenging the Sethusamudram project to construct a shorter sea route around India’s southern tip.

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A bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan gave the government additional time after Attorney General Milan Banerjee informed it that various ministries, departments and experts were being consulted on the controversial matter.

It will take some more time for the government to firm up its views on the tangled issue, Banerjee told the court while seeking additional time to file its affidavit.

Former union minister Subramaniam Swamy, one of the key petitioners challenging the implementation of the project, fearing it would irreparably damage the Ram Setu between India and Sri Lanka, wanted the government to categorically tell in its affidavit whether it (Ram Setu) was a man-made structure or a natural formation.

He sought the court’s directions to the government that the affidavit should be filed only by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

He wanted the affidavit to categorically state if the ASI had conducted any particular study to determine whether the Ram Setu was a man-made structure or a natural formation and if it could be declared a protected monument.

The multi-million dollar Sethusamudram project in the sea dividing India and Sri Lanka will make the navigation route shorter for ships moving ling between the east and west coasts of India.

The project has been opposed by many groups as well as the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as it requires breaking a portion of the Ram Setu or Adam’s Bridge.

Ram Setu is a chain of limestone shoals forming a link between Sri Lanka and India. It finds mention in the epic Ramayana, which says that Lord Ram and his army of monkeys built the bridge to rescue Sita, who was abducted by demon king Ravana.

Curtly dismissing Swamy’s contentions, Banerjee told the bench, also comprising of Justice R.V. Raveendran and Justice J.M. Panchal, that it was for the government to decide which agency would file the affidavit and the petitioner cannot be allowed to dictate terms on the issue.

Banerjee, however, told the bench that government will file only one comprehensive affidavit on the matter.

Swamy also told the bench that the Gulf of Mannar area has been declared a marine biosphere zone as it contained huge deposits of coral and dredging the Ram Setu would affect the biodiversity there.

The chief justice then remarked that if the dredging activity were stopped in the Gulf of Mannar then it would mean scrapping of the entire Sethusamudram project.

The apex court has already issued direction to the government not to damage the Ram Setu in any manner while carrying on the dredging.

The project when completed will provide a shorter navigational route between the eastern and western coasts of India and shall save considerable time and fuel.

The government, in its earlier affidavit, had doubted the existence of Lord Ram, triggering a social and political furore.

The government had subsequently withdrawn the affidavit in a huff, putting the entire project on hold. It had told the court that it will come before it after reviewing the project afresh.