Pachauri report may depoliticise Sethusamudram row

DMK raps Jaya for adopting double standards over ship channel project

While the DMK-led Opposition continues to  lambast the Jayalalitha regime in Tamil Nadu for its stand on the Sethusamudram Ship Channel Project (SSCP) in the Supreme Court on Monday, the R K Pachauri Committee report may unwittingly help to de-politicize this over Rs 2500-crore project that has been in limbo.

  Tamil Nadu, in informing the Supreme Court that it has accepted the recommendations of the committee headed by eminent environmentalist Pachauri, seems to have at once taken away the political sting out of the SSCP row.

The massive project launched with much fanfare under the UPA-1 regime, was to create “a navigable ship channel” across Palk Strait by dredging the shallow sea off Dhanushkodi near Rameshwaram to enable ships traversing from India’s West to East Coasts and vice-versa, cut considerable distance and time by avoiding to go all the way through Colombo port.

The channel alignment cleared by the United Progressive Alliance for the project, with a chequered history of over 150 years since the erstwhile British engineers battled with its feasibility, involved dredging through the “Adams Bridge” or “Ram Setu”—a chain of limestone shoals tenuously linking Rameshwaram Island to Mannar off Sri Lanka’s Northwest coast—held sacred for centuries in Hindu Religious discourse.

Counsel for the AIADMK government told the apex court that based on the findings of the Pachauri Panel, appointed earlier to look into the feasibility of an alternative route (alignment-4A) to implement the project without cutting across “Ram Setu,” the SSCP “would not serve any public purpose.”

The Pachauri committee had in its report, submitted to the apex court in July this year, said the proposed alternative alignment without cutting across the Adams Bridge “is not economically and ecologically feasible.”

The report made it clear that possible “oil spills” posed a serious risk to the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve in the vicinity of the area in an already ecologically fragile zone. In terms of economics, too, SSCP’s viability in that alignment was in doubt, the panel found.

Pegging its reasoning on the Pachauri Committee’s scientific findings, Tamil Nadu said,  in the light of the “environmental hazards” pointed out, the project was neither in public interest nor worth its economic cost.

This buttressed the Jayalalitha government’s plea further that the Centre should declare “Ram Setu” a “national monument.”  It was an ideal case to be declared a “World Heritage Site” by Unesco. Jumping on this virtual “closure notice” sought to be served on the SSCP by the AIADMK regime, DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi, fired the first salvo against Jayalalitha, accusing her of virtually writing a “requiem for this dream project of the Tamil Nadu people.” Even as Karunanidhi charged Jayalalitha with adopting “double standard” as the AIADMK’s 2001 assembly poll manifesto had vowed to pursue the SSCP.

 She later, in the run-up to the 2009 Lok Sabha poll, made clear that AIADMK had modified its position after lot more information on its risks came to be known. Other opposition parties, including PMK leader S Ramadoss and CPM state leader G Ramakrishnan, strongly condemned the ruling AIADMK’s current stand in the apex court.

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