A minor tiff took place on Tuesday between Supreme Court judges on one hand and on the other a petitioner opposed to the Sethusamudram project.
The tiff took place as the bench of Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan and Justice RV Raveendran questioned the petitioner and former minister Subramanian Swamy's argument that "millions of Hindus worship Ram Sethu".
Swamy made the statement while arguing that the apex court must not suspend its order which had banned last year the dredging of the Adam Bridge or the Ram Sethu to build a sea route between India and Sri Lanka.
"It is an admitted fact that millions of Hindus worship Ram Sethu," Swamy said.
This led Justice Raveendran to ask: "Who has gone there to worship?"
And Chief Justice Balakrishnan added: "You cannot say that the people go there to worship as this is under the sea."
These remarks by the bench appeared to upset Swamy and counsel for various other petitioners, who raised their voice and said: "It's an admitted fact that Ram Sethu is regarded as a religious place and millions of Hindus go to Rameshwaram to worship it".
"It's the belief of the people of the country and the court cannot say that it's not a place of worship," Swamy said.
The chief justice replied: "We do not say that it's not a sacred place. It's one's perception."
But Swamy said: "It's not a perception. It's an admitted fact that Hindus regard it as a place of worship."
The Sethusamudram project envisages dredging of a ship channel across the Palk straits between India and Sri Lanka. The project will allow ships sailing between the east and west coasts of India to have a shorter passage instead of having to go around Sri Lanka. This will lead to a saving of up to 424 nautical miles (780 km) and up to 30 hours in sailing time.
A number of organisations have opposed the project, saying it would destroy the bridge used by Lord Ram and his army, going by the Indian epic Ramayana.
Earlier, Swamy recalled that the Madras High Court had asked the central government to file an affidavit stating whether any study has been conducted to ascertain whether Ram Sethu could be declared a national monument.
But last year, when the Supreme Court transferred from the Madras High Court all the lawsuits opposed to Sethusamudram project to itself, it had not stayed the high court's order, said Swamy.
He sought the apex court's direction to the government to comply with the high court order.
Senior counsel KK Venugopal, appearing for one of the petitioners, pointed out to the court that the Archaeological Survey of India has clearly mentioned in its affidavit that they have never undertaken any study to determine if the Ram Sethu could be declared a national monument.
But owing to the minor tiff, the bench adjourned the hearing of the matter to April 29, directing various parties to file their affidavits and counter-affidavits on the issue before then.