Centre scraps UPA's stand on Ram Setu, says won't damage it

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Centre scraps UPA's stand on Ram Setu, says won't damage it

The Sethusamudram project proposed a shipping canal across the Gulf of Mannar, Palk Bay, and the Palk Strait to link the Arabian Sea with the Bay of Bengal.

It is now clear that the 'Ram Setu', which according to Hindu mythology was built by an army of monkeys for Lord Ram and his warriors to cross over to Lanka to rescue Sita, will not fall victim to the controversial Sethusamudram Shipping Canal project.

BJP leader Subramanian Swamy on Friday won a major battle to save the Setu when the Modi government told the Supreme Court that it "would not touch" the bridge with a Hindu mythological significance for building the project, aimed at linking the east and west coasts of the country, but find an alternative position for it.

This is a complete U-turn from the stand of the UPA regime. "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 Setu in the interest of the nation," the Centre said in an affidavit submitted through Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand.

"Considering the socio-economic disadvantages, the government does not want to implement the said alignment. Will explore an alternative without damaging the Ram Setu," it added.

The affidavit incidentally comes close on the heels of a research-based programme in the US-based Discovery Science channel which showed that the setu is man-made and not natural.

The Ram Setu bridge - also known as the Adam's Bridge - is a 50-km stretch from Rameswaram Island in Tamil Nadu to Mannar Island in Sri Lanka. The bridge has been embroiled in controversy since 2005 after the then Congress-led government proposed the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project.

The affidavit marks a big shift of stance on the part of the Centre as the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) under the UPA government had in 2007 filed an affidavit in the apex court saying that Ram was a mythical character and that the Ramayana had no historical basis. The BJP had then used the affidavit to mount a campaign against the Congress.

In his petition filed in 2007, Swamy had sought a plea to direct the Centre to clarify its stand on the setu, which is a chain of limestone shoals off the south-eastern coast of Tamil Nadu.

Quoting Valmiki Ramayana and Tulsi Das' Ramcharitmanas, he claimed the 'Ram Setu' is a historical and cultural heritage and an alternative alignment can be considered for the project.

Under the Sethusamudram project, an 83-km-long deep water canal is to be created, linking the Mannar Strait with Palk Strait, by extensive dredging and removal of the limestone shoals which constitute the mythological Setu.

On November 13, the last date of hearing, the SC had given six months time to Centre to explain if it wanted to remove the Ram Setu or protect it.

Swamy had immediately gone public vouching that he would persuade the Modi government to change the stand taken by the UPA and save the Setu. The project required dredging in the region.

The Sethusamudram project has been opposed by several groups, including the RSS as the canal's alignment would involve cutting through the Ram Setu.

The project was challenged before the Supreme Court in 2005, and some groups said no one should touch the bridge given its mythological significance.

The Centre's affidavit assumes significance as the Discovery Science Channel had in December last year showed that Ram Setu is man-made and not natural. The channel quoted an archaeologist that the rocks on top of sand pre-date the sand. The BJP had then sought an apology from the Congress.

"Those who filed the affidavit should explain now. The research has supported what the BJP has been claiming all alongThe setu is part of our cultural heritage," BJP leader and Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said.

The Sethusamudram project proposed a shipping canal across the Gulf of Mannar, Palk Bay, and the Palk Strait to link the Arabian Sea with the Bay of Bengal.

For this, a channel, passing through the limestone shoals of Adam's Bridge (which is also known as Rama's Bridge, Ram Setu, and Ramar Palam), was to be dredged in the Sethusamudram sea between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka.