The project is currently under litigation after environmental concerns were raised against the plan of linking the PalkBay and the Gulf of Mannar by creating a shipping channel through the shallow sea, says Ruchika Chitravanshi.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government is likely to shelve the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s pet project, Sethusamudram, that involves dredging the stretch of water between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka to make it navigable for ships.
The project is currently under litigation after environmental concerns were raised against the plan of linking the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar by creating a shipping channel through the shallow sea.
Officials in the road, transport and shipping ministry indicated the new minister, Nitin Gadkari, wants an alternative route to be explored along the Sri Lankan waters instead, which would be away from the Ram Sethu, a mythological bridge believed to have been built by Lord Ram in the Palk Strait.
Subramanian Swamy, BJP leader from Tamil Nadu, met Gadkari late on Monday to raise concerns against the Sethusamudram project. Swamy also tweeted he has written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the same. The project was conceptualised to reduce the distance of ships coming from the west coast and Western countries to the east coast of India, Bangladesh and China, among others.
In his first press conference after taking charge as the road transport and shipping minister, Gadkari had refrained from commenting on the future of the controversial project, saying the matter was sub judice. “We will look at both sides of the argument -- for and against the project -- and take a call,” he had said.
Religious organisations and the BJP have opposed the project on the ground that damage would be caused to the Adam’s Bridge or Ram Sethu. The R K Pachauri Committee, in its feasibility report on the project, had said the “project was unviable economically and environmentally”.
Crores of rupees have been spent on the initial dredging of the channel. The Dredging Corporation of India is still struggling to recover about two-thirds of its annual revenue from Sethusamudram Corporation. The total dues stand at Rs 426 crore.
The DCI had employed all its dredgers in the Sethusamudram project in 2006, when T R Baalu was the shipping minister. The Chennai-headquartered project was sanctioned on June 1, 2005, at a cost of Rs 2,427.40 crore in the tenth Five-Year Plan with an outlay of Rs 604 crore. A total quantity of 28.42 Mm3 capital dredging was carried out. The dredging in the bridge region was stopped following the Supreme Court orders of August 31, 2007, and September 14, 2007.
Currently, the ships coming from India’s west coast and other Western countries with destination in the east coast of India and also in Bangladesh and China, among others, have to navigate around the Sri Lankan coast.