The Centre has conveyed to the Supreme Court that Adam’s Bridge or ‘Ram Sethu’ will not be affected while executing the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal project, which aims to create a shipping route through the waters between India and Sri Lanka. This was conveyed to the court in an affidavit filed by the Shipping Ministry. “That the Government of India intends to explore an alternative to the earlier alignment of Sethusamudram Ship Channel project without affecting/damaging the Adam’s Bridge/Ram Sethu in the interest of the nation,” the affidavit said.
The former UPA government who had filed two affidavits in February and September 2013 had informed the apex court that it intended to pursue the implementation of the project given its advantages. The new affidavit said the proposed alignment had “socio-economic disadvantages” and hence “the government of India does not want to implement the said alignment”.
The Union Ministry of Shipping had previously informed that it has decided to explore an alternative to earlier alignment of the Sethusamudram Ship Channel project without affecting the Ram Sethu.
Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand brought the affidavit to the court’s notice when BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, who had filed a PIL against the project, mentioned it for urgent hearing. ‘Ram Sethu’ is a chain of limestone shoals between Pamban or Rameswaram Island off the south-eastern coast of Tamil Nadu and Mannar Island on the north-western coast of Sri Lanka.
Swamy moved the top court to challenge the project on the basis of religious beliefs – Ram Sethu is believed to have been built by Lord Rama’s army to cross the sea – and sought a national heritage status for it.
The Sethusamudram Shipping Channel project has been facing protests from some political parties, environmentalists and certain Hindu religious groups. Under the project, an 83 km-long deep water channel was to be created, linking Mannar with Palk Strait, by extensive dredging and removal of the limestone shoals.
The alternate alignment 4A was to cut through the spit of land just east of Dhanushkodi by-pass and thus save the mythical bridge. But this did not find favour with the experts.
The Rajender Pachauri Committee report said the alternate alignment for building Sethusamudram shipping channel while saving the Rama Sethu was “neither ecologically nor economically” feasible.
Pachauri had given his report after the government asked him to look into the possibility of an alternate alignment. The committee was set up by the central government on July 30, 2008.
Going into pros and cons of the project, including rising sea level, extreme weather conditions and the possibility of oil spills, the report said: “… It can be seen that the project, including the possibility of adopting alignment 4A, could potentially result in an ecological threat that could pose a risk to the ecosystem in the surrounding areas and, in particular, to the biosphere reserve.”
The apex court had on November 13 last year granted six weeks to the Centre to clarify its stand on Ram Sethu. It had also granted liberty to Swamy to approach the court if the response of the Centre was not filed.