Ambika Soni apprises Manmohan about Ram Sethu affidavit issue

New Delhi, Sep 20 Union Culture Minister Ambika Soni today met Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and has apprised him about the course of events taken place in connection with the affidavit filed in the Supreme Court by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in relation to the Sethu Samundram Project

"I have explained to the Prime Minister the course of events. I have submitted all the papers. He heard me patiently. I am content with the meeting," Soni told reporters.

"I am a loyal Congress worker and would abide by the decision of the Congress President," she added.

Yesterday, Soni called off her visit to the US, saying she wanted to meet the Prime Minister.

Commenting on the attack by Commerce Minister Jairam Ramesh and senior congress leader R K Dhawan’s attack, she said, "There is nothing like being hurt in politics. You learn as you go along.”

“It is difficult to work honestly and work according to conviction. There are many factors to be taken into consideration and I am learning, “ she added.

On September 16, activists of Shiv Sena party staged a sit-in in New Delhi to register their protest against the affidavit.

Sena held Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi responsible for this controversy, and demanded resignation of Law Minister Hansraj Bhardwaj and Culture Minister Ambika Soni.

On Saturday, Soni ordered an inquiry into the affidavit filed in the SC by the ASI.

The two officials of the ASI, Director Administration, Chandrashekhar, and Assistant Director of Monuments, V Bakshi are suspended following an inquiry conducted by ASI Director General A Vaish.

On September 14, the Central Government withdrew the affidavit relating to the mythological "Ram Setu" from the SC The Centre has sought a time period of three months.

The Bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balkrishnan allowed the withdrawal of affidavit and posted the matter for next hearing in the first week of January 2008.

The apex Bench said that the August 31 interim order restraining any construction at the "Ram Sethu" or Adam's bridge area will continue.

The Centre cleared that there was no intention to cast aspersions on a religious faith or to divide the society.

On September 12, the Centre rejected the claim of the existence of the "Rama Sethu" in the area where the Sethusamudram project is under construction, saying there was no historical evidence to establish the existence of Lord Rama or other characters in Ramayana.

"The contents of the Valmiki Ramayana, the Ramcharitmanas by Tulsidas and other mythological texts ... cannot be said to be historical record to incontrovertibly prove the existence of the characters or the occurrence of the events depicted therein," the government's affidavit said.

BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani, has said that the affidavit showed "contempt for millions of Hindus in India and abroad".

Hindu groups have called on the government to stop the Sethusamudram Ship Channel Project, saying it will demolish the mythical bridge linking India and Sri Lanka, believed to have been built by Lord Ram.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) is opposing the 560 million dollars project, which they say would destroy the Ram Sethu, a 48- kilometer chain of limestone shoals that once linked Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu to Mannar in Sri Lanka.

The Sethusamudram Project will dredge a channel in a narrow strip of sea between India and Sri Lanka, reducing distances and cutting costs for freight traffic.

According to the Central Government, research has shown that the bridge was a series of sand shoals created by sedimentation.

Dredging for the project began in 2005 and the channel -- 12 metres deep, 300 metres wide and almost 90 km long -- will provide a crucial link between the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar.

When the project is completed, ships sailing between India's western and eastern coasts will no longer have to go around Sri Lanka, and are expected to save up to 36 hours of sailing time.

The project has also sparked protests by other groups including conservationists and local fishermen, who say the dredging will mean dumping sediment in deeper water further out to sea.

This and increased freight traffic will harm marine life and threaten the livelihood of thousands of fishermen in both countries. (With inputs from ANI)