Government should avoid causing any damage to the "Ram Setu" as it might leave a permanent scar in the minds of people like the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, opponents of the controversial Sethusamudram project on Tuesday contended in the Supreme Court.
"Demolition of Babri Masjid has left a deep scar. The wound has healed but the scar is there. Scar of this nature must be avoided," senior advocate K Parasaran said opposing the project contending that religious faith of Hindus is attached with Ram Setu.
"Is there any compelling need to cause a wound again in the minds of so many Hindus to leave a permanent scar? A wrong deed of authority will leave a deep wound," he said before a Bench headed by Chief Justice KG Balakrishanan.
The senior advocate, appearing for the Chief of Hindu Munani, Rama Gopalan, stressed that there was a need to adopt a balanced approach between two facets of public interests -- religious belief and developmental projects.
Former Attorney General Soli J Sorabjee, who started the arguments in the day, said Ram Setu has acquired special significance amongst the Hindus and any state action which results in impairment or even partial destruction of the structure would amount to the violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution.
"A religious belief which is genuinely and conscientiously held over a long period of time by a substantial number of adherents or followers of a particular religion becomes an integral part of that religion and is entitled to protection under Article 25," he said.
However, the Bench, also comprising Justices RV Raveendran and JM Panchal, showered a volley of questions to Sorabjee referring to various mountains and rivers which are sacred to Hindus and wanted to know from him that will the religious faith attached to those places will prevent any construction.
"Hindus worship Bhoomatta (Earth goddess)...The entire Govardhan hill near Mathura is being worshipped. Can you say that no structure can be constructed there," Justice Ravindran said.
Replying to the questions, the senior advocate said in such cases the guiding factor will be the religious belief of the community and it cannot be established historically or scientifically.
Sorabjee at one point said "extreme proposition" has been put to him when the judge wanted to know from him that will the religious belief prevent construction of dams on river Ganga and Narmada which are worshipped and will it prevent cutting of trees and construction work on entire Himalayas and Tirumala hills which are sacred places.
"We are not concerned with the outlandish example of mountains, rivers, trees etc. We are concerned with Ram Setu,"The senior advocate said stressing that the court's role is to determine whether aforesaid belief is genuinely or conscientiously held over a period of time by Hindus and if that be so it falls within the ambit of freedom of religion guaranteed by Article 25."
He said religious belief of Hindus that Rama Setu was constructed by Lord Rama and his followers who crossed over the bridge to Lanka and rescued Sita from the clutches of the demon Ravana cannot be questioned.
"Without Lord Rama and Ramayana, Hindu religion will be a husk," Sorabjee said and added that no action can be taken which changes the essential character of structure which will have affect on the minds of the Hindus who believe in particular faith.
"The court cannot sit on judgement over that belief," he said referring to the Haji Ali Shrine in Mumbai where people of all faith pay obeisance.
He submitted that religious faith of people has to be respected and not offended, which is clear from section 295 of the Indian Penal Code.
Stretching the arguments on the line that Constitution guarantees protection of place of religious faith, Parasaran said any attempt to destroy part of the Ram Setu would be against the spirit of the constitution.
"To interfere or destroy even a part of the Ram Setu causeway would be an interference with the right of liberty of belief, faith and worship," he said.
The senior advocate said Ram Setu and Gangasagar in Bay of Bengal are the two sacred places in the ocean for Hindus and both have special significance. "The question of sanctity is attached to both places," he said.
However, the Bench wanted to know why there has been opposition to the project at this juncture when the dredging activity was going there since 1838.
At this Parasaran said the dredging was done but it was never intended to break the Ram Setu otherwise there would have been a revolt.
Another senior advocate CS Vaidyanathan began the arguments questioning the economic viability of the project through alignment 6, ie through Ram Setu.
The Centre has sought clearance for going ahead with the project on the same alignment, saying issues of faith cannot be resolved through scientific evidence.