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Political battle rages on Sethusamudram project

April 08, 2014 15:46 IST
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BJP, AIADMK oppose the project while DMK and CPI-M support the Sethusamudram shipping project across the Palk Strait. T E Narasimhan reports

With the Lok Sabha elections round the corner, the Sethusamudram project in Tamil Nadu is back into the debate between the political parties both at the state and national circles.

Launched in 2004 by the UPA-I, the project came under heavy protest by a few organisations, who were opposing damage to the Adam's Bridge on religious, environmental and economical grounds. The religious ground was that the project would damage the Ram Sethu or Adam’s Bridge, the remains of a bridge considered to be created by Lord Ram.

The Bharatiya Janata Party in its manifesto, which was released today in New Delhi, said, “Ram Sethu is a part of our cultural heritage and also of strategic importance due to its vast thorium deposits. These facts will be taken into consideration while taking any decision on ‘Sethu-Samudram Channel’ project.”

All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam supermo and Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa recently said the project doesn’t benefit people or the state at large as it would affect the livelihood of fishermen and also the environment.

She said the Centre started the project even without getting the ‘no objection certificate’ from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, which had set up an expert committee that recommended carrying out a detailed environment impact study on the project.

She also alleged the Centre having ignored the Pachauri committee report, which had advised against the project's implementation.

The TNPCB-appointed committee pointed out deficiencies in the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute’s (NEERI) environmental impact assessment report on the project.

She alleged the dredging work carried out in the Palk Strait had destroyed the habitat of breeding fishes and many rare marine species had shifted to a different area.

Jayalalithaa said the channel would have a depth of 12 metres and big ships will not be able to sail in it because of low depth. During 2012-13, the number of ships that called on Tuticorin port had come down to 1,294 from 1,492 in 2011-12 due to increase in the number of big ships in the market, she added.

According to her, even ships belonging to the Poompuhar Shipping Corporation carrying coal to Tuticorin cannot use the Sethusamudram channel while goods from Haldia port are mainly transported by road to other parts of the country.

Charging the former Union shipping minister and DMK senior leader TR Baalu of bringing projects to Tamil Nadu that are against people’s interests, Jayalalithaa said the Sethusamudram Ship Channel project was one such.

She also challenged Baalu to reveal how Meenam Fisheries, a company in which his family is a major shareholder, would be benefited from the Sethusamduram project.

“Baalu should now disclose how many types of ships do these companies own and whether they can pass through Sethusamudram Channel and the type of profit the company would reap because of the project,” Jayalalithaa demanded.

Meanwhile, DMK chief M Karunanidhi on Sunday said, “the chief minister was reluctant to implement the Sethu Canal Project. She told the court the project was not needed in Tamil Nadu. This is ‘Anna’s dream project which is vital for the progress,”. Karunanidhi stated Jayalalithaa went to the extent of approaching the Supreme Court to obstruct the project’s implementation.

The Sethu channel, located north of Tuticorin, would not even be beneficial to vessels leaving Tuticorin port towards south to European, east and southeast Asian countries, said Jayalalithaa. The project aims to connect the western and eastern coast, but there would be no benefit to Tamil Nadu, she contended.

The CPI (Marxist) has asked for speedy implementation of the Sethusamudram project as one of the key issues in its manifesto.

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