Rama Setu: Hush-Hush Setu committee procedures

via Kalyanaraman published on October 31, 2007

Contrary to the public announcements that the committee procedures will be for public hearings the deliberations are being held in a secretive setting. The persons who have submitted petitions are NOT being given the date and time for the public hearing. During the hearing, only the petitioner is allowed inside without any journalists or lawyers being allowed to be present. The whole proceedings are designed to arbitrarily shut out expression of views, lack transparency and are patently an unjust, unfair process, contrary to law and certainly contrary to the undertakings given to the Hon’ble Supreme Court by the counsel for the Union of India.

In Transferred Case (Civil) No. 25/2007 filed by Rama Gopalan and Transferred Case (Civil) No. 26/2007 filed by Dr Subramanian Swamy, Gopal Subramanium, Additional Solicitor General of India, appearing on behalf of the Union government, made the following submission to the Supreme Court, while withdrawing a detailed affidavit which had been filed earlier by the Ministry of Culture on 10/11 September, 2007:

‘The said affidavit was based upon the instruction provided and material made available till then. The Central government has taken note of the wide-ranging public sentiment which has been expressed in respect of the decision of the Central government to proceed with… ‘The Central government has total respect for all religions, and Hinduism in particular, in the context of the present case. The Central Government is alive and conscious of religious sensibilities, including the unique, ancient and holy text of Ramayana. Having regard to public sentiments, and having regard to the fact that representations including additional material, are being brought to the attention of the Government since the filing of this affidavit, the Central government, without any reservation, in a spirit of inclusiveness and high democratic traditions, to consider a different point of view, withdraws the present affidavit, to re-examine the entire matter. The government assures all concerned that all materials will be re-scrutinised with care and circumspection, including any alternative suggestion. The Central government is also keen that its decisions bind and bring the society together rather than cause any disruption in the religious and social psyche of one true India. The matter may be adjourned to enable the government to review the matter, the government seeks three months’ time for the purpose.”

Apart from the fact that inadequate time was given to concerned citizens to submit their objections/suggestions/ proposals, the procedures inhibited submission in regional languages by insisting that the submissions should be only in English.

There is no indication that the Committee will seek out the opinions of experts since the following disciplines vital to an understanding of the project implications have NOT been included on the Committee: Geologists, Oceanographers, Tsunami expert, marine experts, nautical experts, National Security experts, Atomic Minerals experts, Geopolitics experts, experts in the Law of the Sea and International conventions, representative of coastal people organizations (fishermen in particular), Marine archaeologists. Arrangements have to be made by the Union of India, to obtain the views of experts from Srilanka and to conduct public hearings, to remedy the deficiencies of two hearings which were unfairly done in January and February 2005.

A member of the Centre’s Setu Channel Committee has reportedly said:”The committee will accept these views till October 31 in writing and then also hold personal hearing. The committee will come up with a final report by November 11 as stipulated and this will be submitted to the apex court.”

http://www.indianexpress.com/story/229385.html

The committee has not even shown the courtesy of acknowledging the submissions made and indicating to the petitioners the time and date for personal hearing. The petitioners are expected to huddle under a shamiana in front of the office of the committee on Greenways Road and wait for their turn to be called in, after they are made to wait. Some of the petitioners were asked why they would like to offer personal opinions when the submissions have been made in writing. Clearly, the Committee seems to be in a hurry to push through the farcical exercise to meet the pre-determined deadline for submission of their report, that is, on November 11, 2007. How could the Committee prejudge the number of submissions expected and the time it would take for the Committee members to carefully study and deliberate on the submissions made involving technical issues with which the individual committee members may not be fully conversant and hence would warrant consultation with concerned experts of specific disciplines? With this Nov. 11 date for report submission, it is clear that pseudo-public hearings will be conducted only in Chennai and it is clear that the Committee will not visit coastal areas and other places. This undue, unnecessary haste in report submission within 5 days after the final date of hearing, makes the Committee deliberations a farce. Clearly, there will no exercise of due diligence to evaluate all submissions and to seek views of many experts such as: geologists, marine archaeologists, maritime experts, defence experts, oceanographers, experts in the Law of the Sea and economists.

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