Rama Setu: legal steps to prevent destruction (Status as of 22 Aug. 2007)
1. In 2006 Swamy Omkaranand & Sri D. Kuppu Ram filed a suit against Union of India and Sethusamudram Corporation Ltd., in the sub-court at Ramanathpuram District of Tamilnadu for declaring Ramasethu as an Ancient Monument and restraining the defendants from destroying while implementing Sethusamudram Channel Project – i.e., by changing the alignment and digging a canal cutting Pamban (Rameswaram) island near Dhanushkodhi towards east of Kothandaramaswamy Temple, instead of a mid-sea channel. The sub-court did not stop the project, but suggested that a committee of experts should be appointed to enquire into the various objections raised against the project that is being implemented now. That suit is still pending before the sub-court.
2. Earlier in November, 2004 Sri O. Fernandez of Coastal Action Network, Tamilnadu, filed a writ petition in the Madras High Court for declaring that public hearings being conducted then in connection with Sethusamudram Channel Project under Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986 were bad and that fresh public hearings should be conducted after constituting proper enquiry panels in accordance with law for conducting public hearings and after making available the requisite material. This writ petition was dismissed as premature on 17-12-2004. In the same judgment, another writ petition filed by Tuticorin Port Trust against Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board and others for a direction to the concerned District Collectors to complete public hearings, was allowed and the concerned District Collectors were directed to complete public hearings expeditiously and to send the reports with minutes to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, and that further action should be taken forthwith by the authorities concerned, so that the project could be completed as early as possible.
3. Subsequently, the Ministry of Environment gave clearance to the project on 31-3-2005, even though the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board did not give ‘No Objection Certificate’ to the project. Questioning the Environment Clearance Certificate given by the Central Government, Sri O. Fernandez filed another writ petition before Madras High Court. That writ petition was also dismissed on 30-6-2005 on the ground that the petitioner should exhaust the alternative remedy by way of appeal to the National Environment Appellate Authority. These judgments of the Madras High Court are questioned in the Supreme Court by way of Special Leave Petitions and they are pending before the Supreme Court.
4. Three fresh writ petitions were filed in the Madras High Court in 2007 – one by Sri Ram Gopal, and two by Sri Subrahmanyaswamy, and the Madras High Court admitted them. In those writ petitions the petitioners prayed for directions to the respondents i.e., Government of India, Setusamudram Corporation Ltd., Director General of Archaeological Survey of India etc., not to demolish Ramasethu/Adams Bridge and to complete the project by adopting alternative route or alignment without effecting or destroying or demolishing Ramasethu, and to conduct investigation into the origin and history of Ramasethu and to declare it a monument of national importance under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958. On 19-6-2007 the Madras High Court passed an order in those writ petitions, directing the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Union of India as follows:
“to file a counter affidavit explaining whether any study has been undertaken by the archaeological or any other concerned department in respect of Adams Bridge/Rama Sethu and whether the said bridge can be regarded as a national monument within the meaning of the 1958 Act. The Union of India to also explain as to whether the said project can be implemented without affecting Adams Bridge/Rama Sethu by resorting to some other routes discussed and deliberated upon by the previous committees. The counter affidavit shall be filed within four weeks from today. We are not inclined to grant any interim relief as this stage, as it would hamper the further work in the project. However, we leave it to the Union of India to decide whether the actual cutting of Adams Bridge/Rama Sethu could be postponed till the issues involved in these petitions are considered by this court. Hearing is adjourned to 23-7-2007”.
5. The Union of India petitioned to the Supreme Court for transferring these three writ petitions to the Supreme Court to be heard along with the two Special Leave Petitions preferred by Sri O. Fernandez. On 17-7-2007 the Supreme Court directed transfer of the three writ petitions to itself.
6. After this another comprehensive writ petition has been filed in August, 2007 by Sri Dandi Swami Sri Vidyananda Bharatiji. On 10-8-2007 notice was ordered in that matter and it was directed to be posted along with Special Leave Petitions filed by Sri O. Fernandez, on 31-8-2007.
7. Thus now all the questions raised in respect of the Setusamudram Ship Channel Project involving dredging of a channel through Ramasethu/Adams Bridge are to be decided by the Supreme Court and all efforts are being made for early disposal of the matters and also to see that Ramsethu is not in any way affected meanwhile.