New Delhi: An undersea limestone formation between India and Sri Lanka, which is in the centre of a row over a ship canal project, is "an ancient heritage of the country's composite culture", former Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalitha told the Supreme Court on Thursday.
Appearing for the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) chief, senior counsel K.K. Venugopal told the court that issues involving Ram Setu fell in the realm of people's "faith and belief", and Article 25 of the constitution casts a duty on the government to protect people's faith.
Ram Setu, also known as Adam's Bridge, is a chain of limestone shoals 48km long. Many Hindus believe that it was built during Lord Ram's era to facilitate his journey from southern India to Sri Lanka.
Venugopal made the submission on behalf of Jayalalitha as well as noted religious figure Dandi Swami Sri Vidyananda Bharti before a bench headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan.
The bench began hearing a bunch of petitions challenging the Setusamudram Shipping Canal Project, for building a shorter sea route around peninsular India.
In an interim order on August 31, the court had restrained the central government from damaging Ram Setu in any manner while dredging the narrow sea dividing Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. Opening his argument, Veugopal told the bench, which also included justices R.V. Raveendran and J.M. Panchal that while article 49 of the constitution obliges the government to preserve the country's ancient heritage, article 25 required it to protect the faith of the people. Terming issues involving Ram Setu as a matter of faith, Venugopal said that even "this court cannot say that unless proved, we will not believe that god exists. God exists in the mind. That's not a subject matter of legal scrutiny".
Expert panel report
Citing from the government's latest expert committee report on the historicity of Ram Setu, Venugopal pointed out that the report refuses to say it in categorical terms that it was not a man-made structure. He argued that the findings of the report could be construed either way - that Ram Setu could both be a man-made structure or a natural formation.
Citing from the same report, Venugopal said that while terming Ram Setu as a natural formation, it also envisages setting up of a museum at Rameshwaram to preserve the artefacts discovered during the dredging.
"This clearly exposes their mind. Though they are conscious that it is a man-made bridge, they are taking a contrary view. Otherwise, where is the need to preserve the artefact in the museum, if it is a natural formation?" asked Venugopal.
Urging the court to stop the government from destroying the Ram Setu, Venugopal said: "A grievous injustice will be done if the government destroys it without any survey. They will be causing injury to not only to themselves but to the country and the faith of the people of this country."