Setu: excerpts from Centre’s draft affidavit

UPA’s draft affidavit wants SC to decide on Sethu

AMITAV RANJAN (Indian Express)

Posted online: Wednesday, February 27, 2008 at 0842 hrs IST

New Delhi, February 26:

Singed by the political firestorm over its last affidavit on Ram Sethu in which it questioned Ram’s existence, the UPA Government plans to pass the buck to the Supreme Court and take a dramatically different tack, as per its draft affidavit scheduled to be submitted to the Supreme Court early next month.

The affidavit of the Archaeological Survey of India and the Culture Ministry — that came up before the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs today — has cited scientific studies reinforcing the Government’s earlier stand that the structure isn’t man-made but has gone on to say that the ASI doesn’t have the expertise “either to support or contradict” this conclusion.

“It is thus prayed,” the affidavit concludes, “that the Court may pass appropriate orders/directions to all concerned which it may deem fit in larger interest of the society.”

Not just this, the affidavit quotes provisions of the Ancient Monuments & Archaeological Sites and Remains Act to state that “even a natural formation (existing for not less than 100 years) of historical, archaeological or artistic interest can be declared an ancient monument/site of national importance.” It, however, adds the rider that “without any formal archaeological study, no definite conclusion can be drawn.”

Now the Centre has to balance this affidavit with the demand made by ally DMK which has called for highlighting the role of the NDA in the project.

The draft affidavit, a copy of which has been obtained by The Indian Express, also elaborates on the “historical” and “artistic interest.”

“…Popular beliefs and traditions about the Ramayan and Ram Sethu have an antiquity of at least 1,500 years in the country” and of “400-500 years” in Tamil Nadu, the affidavit says. “the legend of Ram, in literature, philosophy and in religious sentiment occupies a significant place in the psyche of a larger segment of Indian society, and indeed, extends beyond our boundaries to a number of other countries.”

It adds: “The Ramlila, which is an oral and cultural tradition, has found place, as a proclamation of 2005, in a UNESCO list of 90 outstanding examples of the world’s intangible cultural heritage. Several events associated with the legend are celebrated as festivals and even declared as gazetted holidays. The ideal of Ram Rajya, espoused by Mahatma Gandhi, is a value system to strive for.”

Contrast this with the earlier statement in the affidavit that touched off a controversy and forced the Government to backtrack: “…contents of the Valmiki Ramayana, the Ramcharitamanas by Tulsidas and other mythological texts, which admittedly form an important part of ancient Indian literature… cannot be said to be historical record to incontrovertibly prove the existence of the characters, or the occurrence of the events, depicted therein.”

On the issue of the Sethu being an “ancient monument” based on “available archaeologically relevant scientific data”, the ASI has washed its hands of saying it had not undertaken any archaeological investigation to decide on it.

On the findings of the Geological Survey of India, the Space Application Centre and the National Institute of Ocean Technology that the formation was not a man-made structure, the affidavit says: “…the related disciplines are not within the purview of the ASI and as such the ASI does not have the required expertise either to support or contradict the conclusions derived at.”

The affidavit quotes the Committee of Eminent Persons — a panel set up by the Government — saying it considered all objections and suggestions and “found no merit in the demand to declare the structure as a monument of national importance as the structure was a “naturally-occurring formation and not man-made”. It said that only sites/structures whose existence and importance have been established were entitled for declaration as national monument.


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