BJP leader Subramanian Swamy on Monday told the Supreme Court that the Centre should decide whether it wants to declare 'Ram Sethu' a national heritage monument.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna, which deferred the hearing on the matter, saying they have not read the files due to paucity of time, was told by Swamy that it has been two decades since he has filed his petition, but till now the government has not filed a single reply.
"They (Centre) should file an affidavit and say whether they want to declare it as a monument of national heritage or not. This matter has been pending for two decades. If they are opposing it, so be it but at least file a reply", Swamy, who appeared in person, said.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said that he will review the documents and inform the court. At the outset, the bench told Swamy that granting national heritage status is the prerogative of the executive and how can the court direct the executive to grant it.
Swamy said that the government has been dilly-dallying on the issue and is saying that the matter is pending before the court.
Ram Sethu, also known as Adam's bridge, is a chain of limestone shoals between Pamban Island, also known as Rameswaram Island, off the south-eastern coast of Tamil Nadu, and Mannar Island, off the north-western coast of Sri Lanka.
The BJP leader had submitted he had already won the first round of the litigation in which the Centre accepted the existence of Ram Sethu. He further said the Union minister concerned had called a meeting in 2017 to consider his demand but nothing happened subsequently.
The BJP leader had raised the issue of declaring the Ram Sethu a national monument in his PIL against the controversial Sethusamudram Ship Channel project, initiated by the UPA-I government. The matter reached the apex court, which in 2007 had stayed work for the project on the Ram Sethu.
The Centre later said it had considered the "socio-economic disadvantages" of the project and was willing to explore another route to the shipping channel project without damaging the Ram Sethu.
"That the Government of India intends to explore an alternative to the earlier alignment of the Skeletomuscular 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.
The court had then asked the government to file a fresh affidavit. The Sethusamudram shipping channel project has been facing protests from some political parties, environmentalists, and certain Hindu religious groups. Under the project, an 83 km-long deep water channel was to be created, linking Mannar with Palk Strait, by extensive dredging and removal of limestone shoals.
The apex court had on November 13, 2019, granted six weeks to the Centre to clarify its stand on the Ram Sethu. It had also granted liberty to Swamy to approach the court if the response of the Centre was not filed.
(With PTI Inputs)