Canal Block

NEW DELHI, Sept 14, 2007 (AFP) – India’s government said Friday it was putting on hold its bid to dredge a crucial shipping lane after being accused of blasphemy by Hindu activists who argue the project will damage a sacred site.

The government denied the existence of a Hindu god to justify the project, which involves building a channel to enable ships to navigate the southern tip of India instead of skirting around Sri Lanka.

Hindus believe a string of islands linking India and Sri Lanka, known as Adam’s Bridge, was made by an army of monkeys to help the warrior god Ram rescue his kidnapped wife.

With the authorities under fire for allegedly insulting Hindus, government lawyers went to the Supreme Court — which is examining the project — to ask for a three-month delay in legal proceedings to consider its case.

“The central government has total respect for all religions, and Hinduism in particular, in the context of the present case,” Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium told the Supreme Court in a hearing on Friday.

The move to shelve the plan was, he said, because the government wanted to “bring society together rather than cause any disruption.”

The shipping lane project — dubbed Indi