Lok Sabha proceedings were adjourned abruptly after a discussion over the controversial Sethusamudram canal project led to clashes between the treasury benches and the opposition, mainly Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MPs.
The proceedings were adjourned at 12.40 pm till 2 pm after the MPs belonging to DMK and Left parties indulged in a war of words with BJP members who argued that the canal project off the Tamil Nadu coast would hurt Hindu sentiments as it would damage the "ancient bridge" built by Lord Rama to link India and Sri Lanka as described in the epic Ramayana.
BJP's deputy leader VK Malhotra argued that his party was not against the project per se but against its alignments.
But Shipping Minister TR Balu, also a DMK MP, rebutted Malhotra' claims and said the project was of great significance from the national defence, security and economic points of view as "it will enable quicker access between the coasts as well as shorten response time."
Pointing out that the "broad principles and parameters of the channel alignments were considered by the (BJP-led) National Democratic Alliance government," Balu said the project had already received environmental clearance.
The BJP claimed the US space agency NASA had the bridge - known as Adam's Bridge - carbon-dated in the Indian Ocean as 1.7 million years. But Balu pointed out that the NASA website had mentioned "now partially submerged giant tombolos forming Adam's Bridge (Palk Strait) connecting Sri Lanka to India... such tombolos usually indicate a constant sediment source and a strong unidirectional or bi-drectional (monsoonal) long shore current."
Tombolo is a bar of sand connecting an island with another island of the mainland.
"None of the studies and investigations conducted so far has produced any tangible scientific evidence of any man-made structure in the area," the minister told the Lok Sabha in reference to BJP's contention about the mythological 'setu' (bridge) that was said to have been constructed by monkey-god Hanuman to take Lord Ram to the then Lanka island to rescue his wife Sita from demon Ravan.
Malhotra and his party colleague insisted that the construction of the canal would hurt Hindu sentiments. Malhotra's arguments irked some of the Left MPs as well as Balu, as BJP MPs kept on disrupting him.
BJP MPs protested and refused to take their seats despite repeated pleas from Speaker Somnath Chatterjee. The speaker then adjourned the house till 2 pm.
A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has been filed by a Hindu organisation with the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court demanding immediate scrapping of the Sethusamudram project.
The Rs 24 billion (over $585 million) offshore shipping canal is designed to link the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar between India and Sri Lanka by creating a shipping canal through a 167 km-channel and reducing sailing time considerably.