The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre to clarify if it wants to remove the Ram Setu – the chain of limestone shoals connecting Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka – or protect it. The court gave the government six weeks’ time to file an affidavit on their stance, reported ANI.

The Ram Setu bridge – also known as the Adam’s Bridge – is a 50-km stretch from Rameswaram Island in Tamil Nadu to Mannar Island in Sri Lanka. According to Indian mythology, it was built by an army of monkeys for Hindu god Ram and his warriors to cross over to Lanka to rescue Sita.

The bridge has been embroiled in controversy since 2005 after the government’s Sethusamudram shipping canal project was planned. The project required dredging in the region.

The Sethusamudram project has been opposed by several groups, including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – this is because of the canal’s alignment, which would involve cutting through the Ram Setu. The project was challenged before the Supreme Court in 2005 with some groups claiming that no one should touch the bridge, keeping in mind its mythological significance.

Matters came to a head in 2007, when the Archaeological Survey of India filed an affidavit before the court that said that Ram was a mythical character and that the Ramayana had no historical basis. The BJP had used the affidavit to mount a campaign against the Congress.

Meanwhile, the Indian Council of Historical Research is conducting an underwater exploration to ascertain whether the Ram Setu was built naturally or is a man-made structure. Experts from the Archaeological Survey of India, research scholars, university students, marine experts and scientists will submit their report by November-end.