The Centre on Friday told the Supreme Court it will not remove the Ram Setu, and will find other ways to the proposed shipping canal in the region, Bar and Bench reported. The government said this in an affidavit in response to a petition by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy against the canal project.

In November, the Supreme Court had asked the Centre to clarify whether it wants to remove the Ram Setu – the chain of limestone shoals connecting Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka – or protect it. Days after this, Swamy said he would “get the Namo [Narendra Modi] government” to tell the court that it would not touch the Ram Setu and instead give it national heritage status.

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 Hindu mythology, it was built by an army of monkeys for the deity Ram and his warriors to cross over to Lanka to rescue Sita.

The bridge has been embroiled in controversy since 2005 after the then Congress-led government proposed the Sethusamudram shipping canal project. The project required dredging in the region.

The Sethusamudram project has been opposed by several groups, including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, as the canal’s alignment would involve cutting through the Ram Setu. The project was challenged before the Supreme Court in 2005, and some groups said no one should touch the bridge given 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.