According to Hindu mythology, the Ram Sethu or the Adam’s Bridge was built by the army led by Hanuman to help Rama rescue Sita from Ravana. It is a chain of limestone shoals between Pamban Island, off the south-eastern coast of Tamil Nadu, and Mannar Island, off the north-western coast of Sri Lanka.
Ever since the British announced the Sethusamudram ship canal project in 1860, it has been submerged in controversies. The issue came to the limelight recently when the Central government told the Supreme Court that it would not touch the bridge with mythological significance and would find an alternate route to complete the project.
The Centre’s response to the apex court was in reply to BJP leader Subramanian Swamy’s petition, which was filed in 2007 over the UPA government’s decision to go ahead with the Sethusamudram project.
“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 filed by the ministry had said.
However, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin called for the revival of the project, and the state Assembly, on Thursday, 12 January, unanimously adopted a resolution urging the Centre to come forward to immediately implement the Sethusamudram ship canal project without any further delay.
Even the Tamil Nadu BJP supported the resolution — which is against the stand taken by the Centre — with a condition that Ram Sethu is not touched. The BJP’s Nainar Nagendran said his party would welcome it if it did not cause any damage to the Ram Sethu.
Will support Sethusamudram if it benefits people: AIADMK
The main Opposition AIADMK said that the views of fishermen should be ascertained and past dredging work for the project should be analysed and if it is going to hugely benefit the people, it would support the project. Pollachi V Jayaraman spoke on behalf of his party.
Piloting the resolution, Chief Minister MK Stalin traced the timeline of the maritime project since the days of former chief minister CN Annadurai and the nation’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
The project had the Nehru-led Cabinet nod in 1963 and it was part of the Fourth Five-Year Plan. Annadurai demanded the implementation of the project in 1967 after becoming the chief minister. Annadurai, popularly known as Anna and Perarignar (great scholar), is an iconic leader and founder of the DMK.
Also read: Who is CN Annadurai, besides being Tamil Nadu CM?
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— M.K.Stalin (@mkstalin) January 12, 2023
Stalin recalled that in 1972, late chief minister M Karunanidhi had urged the then prime minister Indira Gandhi to implement the project.
In 1998, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister, funds allocation was made for the project work and the alignment was chosen.
In 2004, after the Congress-led UPA captured power, ₹2,427 crore was allotted and when the project work was half-complete, the BJP’s opposition to it became a stumbling block.
Stalin said the late AIADMK supremo, J Jayalalithaa, who had supported the project from the start, suddenly changed her stand and knocked on the doors of the court against it.
Had there been no political stumbling blocks, there would have been a lot of benefits after the project’s commissioning about 10 years ago, he said.
‘Will increase foreign exchange earnings’
Citing Karunanidhi’s views on the project’s several uses including economic benefits, the chief minister said it would lead to an increase in foreign exchange earnings and spur the growth of industry, commerce, and maritime trade.
Fishermen’s stand of life and their economic status would rise. More than 50,000 people would get direct and indirect employment opportunities continuously.
The canal would facilitate movement from the Gulf of Munnar to the Palk Straits. Coastal security would be strengthened and handling of transhipment cargo would not go to ports in foreign countries including Sri Lanka.
The distance and travelling time of ships would reduce and the cargo handling capacity would increase.
“All these would have happened. I am not inclined to talk in detail about the political reasons for the project not taking off,” said Stalin.
A Sethusamudram project-related matter is in Supreme Court.
“A Union Minister (Jitendra Singh) has stated in Parliament that it was difficult to pinpoint the structure in the Rameswaram sea area. I urge the House to adopt the resolution, which is based on the thought that the Sethusamudram project should be implemented through struggle and persuasion (by persuading the Centre) when the BJP government has taken such a stand,” added the chief minister.
Also read: TN establishes nation’s first Dugong conservation reserve in Palk Bay
Essential to strengthen Tamil Nadu economy
The government resolution said that the “Sethusamudram project is essential to strengthening the economic development of Tamil Nadu and India”.
It recalled that the ‘great project’ was originally conceived in 1860 by Commander Taylor at a cost of ₹50 lakh. On 2 July 2005, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inaugurated the project in the presence of Karunanidhi and Sonia Gandhi.
“…Union Minister stated in the Parliament that it would be very difficult to say about the type of structure seen in the Rameswaram coast. Given the current stand of the Union government, this House expresses concern that the continued delay in execution of this project will be a stumbling block for the development and growth of Tamil Nadu,” said the government in the resolution.
“This august House is of the considered view that the attempts to further delay the implementation of this project by certain forces are against the interest of our nation’s growth. Considering this, this House resolves that the Union government should immediately come forward to implement this important Sethusamudram project without any further delay and that the government of Tamil Nadu would provide all cooperation for the implementation of the project,” it added.
After MLAs spoke, Speaker M Appavu announced that the resolution was adopted unanimously.
Swamy’s plea to be heard in February
The Supreme Court on Thursday, 12 January, said it would take up BJP leader Subramanian Swamy’s plea seeking a direction to declare the Ram Sethu a national heritage monument in the second week of February.
A bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha said the matter was unlikely to be heard on Thursday as a Constitution Bench case was going on.
Swamy said the solicitor general had made a commitment to file the reply and the cabinet secretary should be summoned to the court.
“Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had said the counter will be filed by 12 December. But it has not been filed yet. Earlier, they said it’s ready,” Swamy submitted.
Mehta said the matter was under consideration and discussions were underway.
(With inputs from PTI)