Government to examine alternative route for Setu channel (Second Lead)

July 30th, 2008 - 9:51 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, July 30 (IANS) The government Wednesday informed the Supreme Court that it has appointed an expert panel to examine if a shorter sea route around India’s southern tip could be built along an alternative alignment, sparing any damage to the Ram Setu. With the government apprising the apex court of its decision, the court reserved its ruling on whether the government could be allowed to build a shipping channel that would cut across the Ram Setu, damaging the formation held sacred by millions of Hindus.

As the bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan resumed hearing on the contentious issue, government counsel Fali S. Nariman apprised it of the government decision that it had acceded to the court’s repeated suggestion to have the viability of an alternative route for the shipping channel examined by an expert panel.

Nariman read a letter written to him by Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrashekhar on Tuesday, saying, “Please refer to your letter dated July 24 to the prime minister regarding the observation of the Supreme Court” on the possibility of having an alternative alignment for the shipping channel.

“The Supreme Court’s suggestion for an alternative alignment including a canal, cutting through the portion between Dhanushkodi and Lands End on Rameshwaram island has been given serious consideration by the government,” said Nariman, quoting the cabinet secretary’s letter.

“It has been decided to set up an expert committee headed by The Energy Research Institute director general R.K. Pachauri to look into the suggestions. The committee has been asked to give its report as quickly as possible,” said Nariman, quoting from the letter.

The expert committee includes Nagpur-based National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) acting director T. Chakarbarti and Goa’s National Institute of Oceanography director S.R. Shetye as its members. Other members are Chennai-based National Institute of Ocean Technology director S. Kathiroli, central government’s Chief Hydrographer Rear Admiral B.R. Rao and Geological Survey of India’s director general P.M. Tajale.

The Adam’s Bridge or Ram setu is a 48 km long chain of limestone shoals that once linked Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu with Mannar in Sri Lanka’s northwest. Many Hindus hold belief that it was the bridge Lord Ram’s army built to cross over to Lanka to rescue his wife Sita.

The bridge faces some damage due to the dredging for the ambitious Setusamudram canal project to create a navigable waterway between India’s southern tip and Sri Lanka.

The Sethusamudram shipping channel is being built along what is known as alignment 6, which cuts through the Ram Setu. This alignment was chosen by the government as it does not damage the marine biological park off Rameshwaram island in the Gulf of Mannar.

The ‘alignment 4′ had been abandoned by the government as it would have cut across the land mass of Rameshwaram island, besides damaging the marine biological park across the island.

The Supreme Court had been pointing out to the government that by choosing alignment 6, it had chosen to hurt faith rather than environment.

Suggesting that the government balance the issues of “faith and logic”, the apex court, last May as well as last Wednesday, had asked the government to examine the feasibility of having a shipping channel, which goes up to land mass of Rameshwaram island and then instead of cutting through it, takes a detour to Dhanushkodi, where it coincides with the original route of alignment 4. This way the Ram Setu would be spared any damage.

After Nariman apprised the bench, which also included Justice R.V. Raveendran and Justice J.M. Panchal, of the government decision, the bench said it would reserve the ruling on the matter Wednesday itself after concluding the hearing and await the committee’s report before delivering its verdict.

The bench subsequently resumed hearing on the matter with former central minister Subramanian Swamy opening his argument.

Swamy contended that though the government had taken care of his demand to examine the viability of an alternative alignment for the shipping canal, the question of declaring the Ram Setu a national monument was left unanswered.

Counting alleged illegalities involving the Sethusamudram Shipping Channel Project, Swamy contended that it did not have clearance from the Tamil Nadu environmental committee.

The project also rubs the international marine law wrong way, contended Swamy saying that Sri Lanka too is affected by destruction of the Ram Setu and can move the International Court of Justice at Hague for scarping of the project.

Swamy also told the court that even the Planning Commission had questioned the economic cost benefit of the project and had suggested a railway line along the coast right from Tuticorn to Kolkata, which would have generated tremendous amount of employment.

He said that from the strategic point of view, the project is “so worthless” and inimical to the country’s marine security that the defence ministry had refused to share the cost of the project.

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