The Supreme Court today granted four weeks time to the Centre to file its response to BJP leader Subramanian Swamy's plea seeking a direction that the Ram Sethu be declared a national heritage monument, asking why it was dragging its feet.

A Bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice Hima Kohli and Justice J B Pardiwala was told by Swamy that it was a small matter where the Centre was supposed to either say "yes" or "no" to the submission.

"The counter affidavit (reply) is ready. We will have to get instructions from the Ministry," the counsel for the Centre said while seeking time for filing the response

"Why are you dragging your (Centre) feet," the Bench observed.

"Let the counter affidavit be filed within four weeks with a copy to be served to the petitioner (Swamy). The rejoinder, if any, be filed within two weeks thereafter," the Bench said in its order.

Earlier on August 3, a Bench headed by then CJI N V Ramana, since retired, had said it would list for hearing the plea of Swamy. Ram Sethu, also known as Adam's bridge, is a chain of limestone shoals between Pamban Island, off the south-eastern coast of Tamil Nadu, and Mannar Island, off the north-western coast of Sri Lanka.

The BJP leader had submitted that he had already won the first round of the litigation in which the Centre accepted the existence of Ram Sethu.

He said the Union minister concerned had called a meeting in 2017 to consider his demand but nothing happened subsequently.

The BJP leader had raised the issue of declaring the Ram Sethu a national monument in his PIL against the controversial Sethusamudram Ship Channel project, initiated by the UPA-I government.

The matter reached the apex court, which in 2007 stayed work for the project on the Ram Sethu. The Centre later said it had considered the "socio-economic disadvantages" of the project and was willing to explore another route to the shipping channel project without damaging the Ram Sethu.

"That the Government of India intends to explore an alternative to the earlier alignment of Skeletomuscular Ship Channel project without affecting/damaging the Adam's Bridge/Ram Sethu in the interest of the nation," the affidavit filed by the ministry had said.

The court then asked the government to file a fresh affidavit. The Sethusamudram shipping channel project has been facing protests from some political parties, environmentalists and certain Hindu religious groups.

Under the project, an 83 km water channel was to be created, linking Mannar with Palk Strait, by extensive dredging and removal of limestone shoals.

On November 13, 2019, the apex court had granted the Centre six weeks to clarify its stand on the Ram Sethu. It had also granted Swamy liberty to approach the court if the response of the Centre was not filed.

With PTI inputs