The SC will consider the question of recognising the Ram Setu as India's national heritage.
Context. The apex court will hear the petition seeking a direction to the Centre to declare the "Ram Setu" as a national heritage monument.
The matter will be heard on 26 July.
The plea is by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy.
What's Ram Setu? It's a chain of shoals between Pamban Island (Rameswaram Island), off the south-eastern coast of India, and Mannar Island, off the north-western coast of Sri Lanka.
Ancient Indian scriptures, including the epic Ramayana, say that the Ram Setu was built by Lord Ram with the help of an army of monkeys and local tribes in order to reach Sri Lanka and rescue his wife from the demon king Ravana.
Conflicted history: During its tenure, the Congress-led UPA-I government submitted an affidavit in the SC to dredge and remove the Setu for the Setusamudram shipping canal project.
The project envisaged building an 83-km-long deep water channel linking Mannar with Palk Strait.
An affidavit by the ASI, submitted in the apex court on 13 September 2007, denied the existence of Lord Ram, saying he was a fictional character.
Kapil Sibal, a senior minister in the UPA government, had said there was no scientific evidence to prove that the Ram Setu was manmade. However, he called for respect for people's faith.
The matter then reached the apex court, where, in its interim order, the SC allowed dredging activity in the Adam’s Bridge (Ram Setu).
This created a furore, with the BJP opposing the Manmohan Singh government’s official stance on Lord Ram.
Senior BJP leader LK Advani termed the Centre's affidavit as "blasphemous and arrogant."
BJP leader Subramanian Swamy also filed a PIL against the shipping channel project and sought direction to then government to not touch the Ram Setu.
Buckling under pressure and as a damage control exercise, the Congress government withdrew the affidavit from the SC.
A bench headed by then chief justice K G Balkrishnan allowed the UPA government to withdraw the affidavit.
As a result, the dredging of the Ram Setu was put on hold.
Swamy's current plea was admitted by a bench comprising Chief Justice N V Ramana and justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli.
The judges noted that it was an urgent and “small matter” that needed to be listed for hearing.
Swamy had brought up the question on 23 February this year, after he had listed it for urgent hearing on 8 April 2021.
On 23 January 2020, the apex court had said it would consider Swamy's plea after three months.
The BJP leader had submitted that he had already won the first round of litigation in which the Centre accepted the existence of the Ram Setu.
The Modi government's stance is that it supports the demand for the Ram Setu to be declared a national monument.
"On a personal level, I believe that the Ram Setu has claims to be declared a national monument. With whatever knowledge we have so far, in fact, it should be included in the list of World Heritage Sites," Union Culture and Tourism Minister Prahlad Singh Patel has said.
Unearthing the Setu: In 2007, the Ministry of Tourism, then under the UPA, had said: "As per the scientific evidence available so far, Ram Setu does not fulfil the criteria to be declared as a monument of national importance."
Cut to the present, the ASI has given the go-ahead for a scientific exploration of the existence of the Ram Setu.
In a series of replies to the Parliament last year, the Culture Minister said that the ASI had set up six new circles in August 2020 to oversee and undertake excavations.
The research proposed by the CSIR-NIO, Goa, will also explore the process behind the formation of the Setu.
Setu is manmade? The Discovery channel in 2017 aired a show called Ancient Land Bridge, which claimed that the Ram Setu structure was not natural but manmade.
The American TV channel showed images from a NASA satellite and quoted studies and scientists from American universities.
Their scientific analysis sought to prove that rocks on the sandbar between southern Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka were 7,000 years old.
According to the scientists, the structure in the satellite image was not natural, but rather built by human beings.
Bottom line: Expect many to keenly follow the contentious issue now that the SC has admitted it for hearing.
Ujjawal Mishra is a Staff Writer at Swarajya. He tweets @Ujjawal1Mishra.
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