Fresh attempts on religious grounds to oppose the Sethusamudram project on Tuesday evoked sharp reactions from the Supreme Court, which expressed its displeasure for calling Ram Sethu or Adams Bridge a place of worship.
"Who says it (Ram Sethu) is a place of worship? Who goes to the middle of the sea to worship," a bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan said.
"Don't say people go there and worship," the bench, also comprising Justice R V Raveendran, observed when Janata Party President Subramanium Swamy submitted that Ram Sethu has to be protected as it was a place of worship for Hindus.
Swamy, who was pressing that the Centre was bound by the Madras High Court order to consider an archaeological probe to declare Ram Sethu as an ancient monument, said it has been held by Hindus as sacred and anyone who tries to damage it should be booked for criminal offence under Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code.
"It is an admitted place of worship and I go every year to worship," he said, adding that "Lordship, it is not a question of your belief, but it is the belief of the people of this country."
When the bench said it was a matter of perception, Swamy said, "Hindus unanimously believe that it is a place of worship."
"It is not my belief. It is the belief of people of this country that it is a sacred place," he further said, adding, "You (court) cannot sanction the belief of the people".
Swamy and others who have opposed the project, which allegedly involved breaking of the Ram Sethu, a 30-km long mythical bridge connecting the Talaimanar coast of Sri Lanka and situated south-east off Rameshwaram, wanted the Centre to clarify its stand according to the High Court order.
Senior advocates K K Venugopal and Arun Jaitley, appearing for others, also submitted that though the Centre last year withdrew its controversial affidavit, the order of the High Court on archaeological investigations before the petitions were transferred, was still in existence.
However, the bench said, "You (petitioners) cannot insist on High Court order when order has been passed by this court".
The Centre, which on February 29 filed the fresh affidavit after the flip-flop over Ram Sethu, has now decided to engage noted jurist and senior advocate Fali S Nariman to seek clearance for going ahead with the Rs 2,087 crore project.
Meanwhile, after complaints that some of the petitioners had not got entire documents filed along with the fresh affidavit, the bench posted the matter for hearing on April 29.
The Centre, in its fresh affidavit, has sought clearance for going ahead with the Sethusamudram project on the same alignment, saying issues of faith cannot be resolved through scientific evidence.
The 60-page affidavit cleared by the Cabinet Committee of Political Affairs, which was chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has said the opposition to the project, which started two years back, was misconceived and unsubstantiated and the court should "refrain from interdicting".
The Centre has said that a committee of eminent persons appointed on October 5, 2007 re-examined the entire project, including the six possible alignments, to conclude that the alignment No-6 (Ram Sethu) was the best alternative and to alter channel alignment at this stage would be infeasible as it would lead to huge losses to the public exchequer.