New Delhi: The Centre on Thursday refused to take any stand on the issue of declaring mythological Ram Sethu a national monument and asked the Supreme Court instead to decide it.

Appearing before a bench headed by justices H L Dattu and Anil R Dave, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Haren Raval submitted that the government after consultations on the issue has decided that it would not take any stand on it.

He said the government would stand by its earlier affidavit, filed in 2008, in which it had said that the government respects all religions but it was of view that it should not be called upon to respond to the issues of faith, except in recognising their existence.

The bench was hearing a petition filed by Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy seeking the court's direction to declare Ram Sethu a national monument. The apex court earlier on March 29 had granted two weeks to the Centre to take a stand on the issue.

"If you say you don't want to file counter affidavit, we can go ahead with the arguments in the case," the bench had said. The case relating to Ram Sethu came under judicial scrutiny due to a bunch of petitions filed in the apex court against the ambitious Sethusamudram project, whose execution allegedly was to damage the mythological bridge.

SETHUSAMUDRAM PROJECT

Sethusamudram project is aimed at constructing a shorter navigational route around India's southern tip by breaching the mythological Ram Sethu, said to have been built by Lord Rama's army of monkeys and bears to the demon king Ravana's kingdom Lanka. As per the Sethusamudram project, the shipping channel is proposed to be 30 metres wide, 12 metres deep and 167 kms long.

The Centre in its earlier affidavit, cleared by the Cabinet Committee of Political Affairs (CCPA) chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, had said the government respects all religions but was of view that it "should not be called upon to respond to the issues of faith, except in recognising their existence." The amended affidavit was filed after the Centre had withdrawn its two affidavits in which it had questioned the existence of Lord Ram and "Ram Sethu".

Following an outcry led by the Sangh Parivar over the controversial affidavit, the apex court on September 14, 2007 had allowed the Centre re-examine entire materials afresh to review the Rs 2,087 crore project.

(Agencies)