POINTS MADE IN THE RAMA SETU MATTER
IN SUPREME COURT ON NOVEMBER 26, 2013
1. My Writ Petition was first filed in May 2007 in the Madras High Court seeking judicially review of the SSCP, in particular its aim to rupture the Rama Setu to cut out a canal on the sea bed of the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Straits. It was admitted and Notice was issued.
2. In the sworn filed by the Learned ASG filed a counter affidavit in the Hon’ble MHC in which UOI admitted that Rama Setu is held sacred and is a place of worship for Hindu pilgrims.
3. This was judicially noticed by the First Bench of the Hon’ble Madras High Court in their Order of June 19, 2007 [Paper Book p. 77 and 93-94].The Hon’ble First Bench of MHC issued directions in the said Order to the Ministry of Culture to file affidavits on the ancient monument status of the Rama Setu u/s AM&AS Act(1958) in view of the fact that the “definitions given in the 1958 Act it would be apparent that an ‘ancient monument’ has been given a very wide meaning. It would mean to be any monument which is very old having historic past of record. It can also be a stone, a post, a river etc.”.
4. Subsequently, on a petition filed by the UOI in July 2007 in this Hon’ble Court, my WP was transferred to the Supreme Court in July 2007. In their Order, the First Bench reaffirmed the MHC directions on the ancient monument status.
5. From ancient times Rama Setu has been held sacred by the Hindus. Under Section 295 of IPC, that faith of the people is what matters.
6. In AIR 1958 SC 1032 at para. 7; p.1035, this Hon’ble Court held: “Any object however trivial or destitute of real value in itself, if regarded as sacred by any class of persons would come within the meaning of the penal section” [ i.e., Section 295 IPC which penalizes any destruction, damage or defilement of any object held as sacred by any class of persons as an insult to their religion].
7. This Hon’ble Court further held in that matter that: “Courts have to be very circumspect in such matters, and to pay due regard to the feelings and religious emotions of different classes of persons with different beliefs, irrespective of the consideration whether or not they share those beliefs, or whether they are rational or otherwise, in the opinion of the court”.
8. Valmiki had 10, 000 years ago recorded in the Ramayana that when Lord Sri Rama took out his agni-bahn in Dhanushkodi to dry out the sea, in order to create a path to walk to Sri Lanka, Samudra Raja emerged from the sea to inform the Lord of the environmental consequences of releasing the agni-bahn.
9. The Lord of the Sea suggested instead to Sri Rama to use the ridge under the Gulf of Mannar and build on it the setu with coral rocks from the shore area, which project then Lord Rama entrusted to Nala, the Vanar tribe architect.
I. SACREDNESS OF RAMA SETU
10. The clear direction of the Madras High Court contained in the Order of June 19, 2007 was as follows:
“ The Ministry of Culture and Tourism is directed to file a counter affidavit explaining [emphasis added] whether any study has been undertaken by the archaeological or any other concerned department in respect of the Adam’s Bridge/Rama Sethu and whether the said bridge can be regarded as a national monument within the meaning of the 1958 Act.”[ref: APPLICATION TO VACATE THE INTERIM ORDER, para.15;p.30].
11. After my Writ Petition was transferred in July 2007 to itself by this Hon’ble Court, the MHC directions were re-affirmed.
12. Subsequently on August 30, 2007, this Hon’ble Court granted me a stay on any proposal of the SSCP Corporation to rupture the Rama Setu.
13. In the written submission on behalf of the Union of India [UOI] made before this Hon’ble Court subsequently, the Learned Additional Solicitor on September 14, 2007 assured this Hon’ble Court to honour the sentiments of the Hindus with regard to Lord Rama in the new counter affidavit that the Respondent UOI would subsequently file— after withdrawing their earlier counter affidavit filed on September 10, 2007 which contained averments that hurt the religious and cultural sentiments of the people of India.
14. In 2012 the UOI finally filed an affidavit washing its hands off stating that the Court may decide for the Respondents on matters of faith. A reference was made to the so-called Committee of Eminent Persons set up by the SSCP nodal Ministry of Shipping.
15. The Report of the Committee on this important matter had stated as follows:
10. Upon a review of the archaeological investigations done in India so far[emphasis added], the Committee notes that no archaeological studies have been undertaken in the Rama Sethu/Adam’s Bridge area. As yet [emphasis added], no evidence pertaining to archaeological remains of any man-made structures are known from this are known from this area”
16. Such an updated study could reverse the current view of some on the mythical status of the Rama Setu.
17. For decades, for example, the Sarasvati River referred to repeatedly in the Vedas, was derided as “mythical” by some scholars, but in 1982 scientists of the Ministry of Space led by Prof. Yash Pal established with the then new technology of satellite photo-imaging that Sarasvati River did exist and is now flowing underground.
18. Similiarly, Dwarka city of Bhagwan Sri Krishna was dismissed as a figment of Hindu imagination, till 1994 when Dr. S.R. Rao, then Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India of the Ministry of Culture, led a team under the Gujarat coastal sea for six years, and established its existence.
19. It is relevant to point out that Dr. Rao has written in 2007 a letter to the Minister of Shipping to ensure that the Rama Setu is protected and declared as an ancient monument and world heritage site[ ref: ANNEXURE P-7 Colly].
20.Hence, given the materials already at hand, with a further study by the Department of Marine Archeology that meets international norms of investigation and standards of research, the Rama Setu may be scientifically established as constructed and a cherished heritage.
21. Document No. NIOT/C-1046/TPT-Sethu/VBC-BH/Final Report of the National Institute of Ocean Technology, Chennai [NIOT] of the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences, UOI, under the charge of the Prime Minister[ref: ANNEXURE P-8], was prepared by a team of the NIOT led by the former Director of the GSI, Dr. S. Badrinarayanan, and submitted in February 2005.
22. This Report was in fact prepared by the NIOT on the request from the Sethusamudram Ship Channel Project. It was made available earlier in April 2007 by the said Ministry to the President of India on a reference following the representation made by the H.H. Jagadguru Shankaracharya of Puri Math, Swami Nischalananda Sarasvati [ref: ANNEXURE P-9].
23.Based on these materials, it is clear that NIOT Project Coordinator Dr. Badrinarayanan had opined and which opinion was communicated to the President of India[ref: ANNEXURE P-8, op.cit.] that the geological studies by the Team conducted do appear to point as follows:
“These things appear to point these coral rock pieces and pebbles have been transported and placed in these areas.”[emphasis added].
“Since the calcareous sand stones and Corals are less dense than normal hard rock and quite compact, probably these were used by the ancients to form a connecting link to Sri Lanka, on the higher elevations of the Adams bridge ridge and this is analogous to modern causeway.” [emphasis added].
24. This same NIOT in April 2005 submitted another report based on fresh boring of six holes just offshore in Rameshwaram island.
25. Moreover, three now retired Directors of the GSI, Gopalkrishnan, Badrinarayanan, and Subramanian had submitted a jointly authored detailed research paper to the so-called Committee of Eminent Persons, in which they have stated that there are scientific evidences to indicate that the Rama Setu is an ancient constructed causeway.
26. But this paper has not been evaluated by the Committee. This failure or lapse is a reflection of bias.
27. The Respondent UOI has recently re-written to the UNESCO re: Manjuli island which is situated in the midst of the Brahmaputra river flowing through Assam, near Jorhat, seeking that it be declared a world heritage site for certain reasons of belief[ref: ANNEXURE P-11 Colly] and size. The Rama Setu eminently qualifies by those very criteria.
28. Therefore there can be no substance in the Respondents’ averment in this instant Rama Setu matter that “The Union of India is of the belief that it should not be called upon to respond to issues of faith, except in recognizing their existence”.[ref: COUNTER AFFIDAVIT para.88;p.59].
29. In fact, on the contrary, the earlier counter affidavit of the Respondent UOI had to be withdrawn when remarks of the non-existence of Sri Rama in the text led to great public indignation and protests. Most prominent and respected Hindu religious leaders came out of their religious seminaries and strongly objected. Hence, by doing or not doing, the Respondents could put public order at risk.
30. In the famous Shah Bano case, the Union of India was not called upon by this Hon’ble Court to respond to issue of faith in amending personal law of Muslims. Yet a Bill was enacted into law by the Parliament to in effect nullify this Hon’ble Court’s earlier judgment.
31. In the Delhi Metro Rail AIIMS-Qutab Minar Corridor construction, the Union of India intervened after an issue of faith was raised against the Corridor alignment by some Islamic NGOs. They contended that the overhead alignment proposed in the Detailed Project Report of the Rs.2358 crore project could threaten the Qutab Minar and some en route tombs by the vibrations of the Metro Rail service, and hence wanted the Alignment changed. The Union of India then directed the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation to change the Alignment despite the project’s work being in full swing. At an additional cost of Rs 400 crores, the Corporation changed the chosen Alignment to meet the demands of faith [ref: ANNEXURE P-12 ] and re-worked a new underground Alignment.
32. In this instant Rama Setu desecration matter, besides it being violative of Article 49 of the Constitution, the statutory provisions of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites & Remains Act(1958), and the Indian Penal Code[Section 295], the demolition or damaging of the Rama Setu will have cataclysmic and profound consequences for the secular and public order of Indian society. It is well settled by case laws that this Hon’ble Court may then intervene in such cases to judicially review the decision-making process so as not to allow injury to the public because of dereliction of constitutional and statutory obligations and duties on part of the Respondent.
33. Moreover, what to do, or not to do, so as to promote economic development while respecting issues of faith is a very important question that impinges importantly on Constitutional law and that requires urgent judicial determination by this Hon’ble Bench of this Hon’ble Court.
34. In the United States, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act [RFRA] holds that the Federal government may not “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” in pursuing economic interests.
35. On March 12, 2007, the three judge bench of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, in a celebrated case set aside the clearance granted to an Arizona State ski resort vide the Final Environmental Impact Statement under the National Environment Policy Act.
36. The ski resort’s plan, as cleared, was for use of treated sewage effluent of a small tourist destination city called Flagstaff, to make artificial snow and spread it on the slopes of a mountain held sacred by native American tribes.
37. The case pitted 13 native American tribes such as Navajos, Apaches etc., who claimed hurt to their religious beliefs versus local economic interests of skiing tourism. The Court unanimously held that the clearance violated the RFRA and hence should cancelled.
38. At present, contrary to the averment of the Respondent [ref: Counter Affidavit para. 88 p. 59], the union and state governments are indeed espousing the cause of some religions.
39. The Rs. 400 crore subsidy annually for Muslims travel to Mecca for Haj; the underwriting of the costs of travel for Christians of Andhra Pradesh to Bethlehem in Israel; and the Union Cabinet’s recent decision [March 20, 2008] to underwrite the costs totaling about Rs.180 crores for developing the Anandpur Sahib and Talwandi Sabo in Punjab; and The Hindu Religious Endowments and Charitable Trusts Acts are other examples that contradict these averments and also point to the haphazard and ad hoc approach of the UOI.
40. It is established, and admitted by the Respondents that a structure, that is natural or constructed, and widely known for very long as Rama Setu, does exist but that its origins and nature have admittedly not been investigated yet by the Respondent despite overwhelming prima facie evidence that the Rama Setu is a constructed causeway that fits the description given in Valmiki’s Ramayana.
41. There was thus enough material before the Respondents to, at the very minimum, carry out a thorough archaeological investigation that met the norms of investigation which are internationally accepted.
42. There is also an obligation devolving on the Respondents to comply with the June 19, 2007 Madras High Court direction to the Respondent Ministry of Culture to file a counter affidavit explaining “whether the said bridge can be regarded as a national monument within the meaning of the 1958 Act”.
43. If indeed the Rama Setu qualifies to be such a monument or archaeological site, then it would be illegal to dredge through or damage it. The Project would then be ultra vires.
44. Therefore the admission of failure by the Respondent to carry out such an archaeological investigation is Wednesbury unreasonable and perverse. It is also vitiated by bias of the Respondent against Sri Rama and the Ramayana.
45. As this Hon’ble Court has held in Intellectuals Forum v State of A.P. [(2006)3 SCC 549 at 578-79, paras. 88,93], court decisions cannot be based solely upon the investments committed by any party. In several cases cited therein, this Hon’ble Court has ordered demolition of already built structures and restoration of status quo ex antedespite crores of rupees had been spent already on those development projects.
46. On the facts, admissions, and in the circumstances stated in above paragraphs, therefore this Hon’ble Court may be pleased to issue a Writ of Mandamus as prayed in the Writ Petition No.18223 of 2007 in the Madras High Court and now before this Hon’ble Court as T.C.(Civil) 26 of 2007, directing the Respondent to declare the Rama Setu as an Ancient Monument of National Importance within the meaning of the aforesaid provisions of law.