UPA tries to bring allies on board over sethu issue

Written by Political Bureau | New Delhi, Feb 26 | Updated: Feb 27 2008, 03:47am hrs
Intending to spread out possible political costs incurred while pushing ahead with the Sethusamudram project in Tamil Nadu, the UPA leadership on Tuesday sought to bring all major alliance partners into the accountability frame by seeking their views on the contentious issue.

Party leaders of all major allies were handed over a draft affidavit on the Rama Sethu issue at a meeting of the cabinet committee on political affairs (CCPA) convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday afternoon. The affidavit is to be submitted before the Supreme Court on March 5. Alliance partners have been told to give their views on the issue by Thursday.

The draft affidavit, party circles asserted, has taken the line that the Rama Sethu is not a man made structure but a natural formation. This line concurs with the stand taken by the experts committee that was set up by the government to look into whether the Sethu connecting the Indian coast and Sri Lanka is man made or not. The issue turned into a controversy after an previous affidavit filed by the culture ministry before the Supreme Court made references to existence of Lord Ram.

Earlier, a meeting of the group of ministers (GoM) headed by external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee to look into the issue had failed to reach at an agreement with culture minister Ambika Soni walking out of one of the meetings. In the GoM deliberations, the shipping ministry had signaled that it wanted to go ahead with the project while Soni had insisted on detailed archaeological survey as per international norms before taking any decision on the project, opposed by the BJP.

Soni had walked out of the meeting in protest against shipping minister TR Baalus charge that she was coming in the way of the implementation of the Rs 2,287 crore project. The matter was finally put the matter before the CCPA.