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The Supreme Court has said that Ram Sethu, cannot be called a place of worship, though it may be a sacred structure. “Who says it (Ram Sethu) is a place of worship? Who goes to the middle of the sea to worship,” a bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justice R V Raveendran asked.

“Don’t say people go there and worship,” observed the apex court when Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy submitted that Ram Sethu has to be protected as it was a place of worship for devout Hindus. The court, however, said that it may be a sacred structure making a differentiation between the two concepts.

Swamy said that the Centre was bound by the Madras high court order directing to consider an archaeological probe to declare Ram Sethu as an ancient monument. He said that Ram Sethu 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. “Its an admitted place of worship and I go every year to worship,” he said adding, “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 its 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 that “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 reef connecting Talaimannar coast of Sri Lanka and situated south-east off Rameshwaram, wanted that the Centre should clarify its stand according to the high court order.

Senior advocates K K Venugopal and Arun Jaitley, appearing for other petitioners, submitted that though the Centre last year had withdrew its controversial affidavit, the order of the high court on archaeological investigations before the petitions were transferred, was still in existence. However, the court 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 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 the 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 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.

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