Rama Setu: Govt. panel gets back, go on with Setu channel

Staying clear of Ram, Govt panel gets back: No proof of man-made structure, go on with Sethu

Anubhuti Vishnoi

Posted online: Sunday, December 09, 2007 at 0000 hrs IST

NEW DELHI, DECEMBER 8

Forced to call off work on the Rs 2,427-crore Sethusamudram Ship Channel Project after an embarrassing affidavit doubting the existence of Ram kicked off a political storm, the Ministry of Shipping can now heave a sigh of relief.

The Sunday Express has learnt that an expert committee report, factoring in views from diverse quarters, has given the green signal for the flagship project to resume. The report, running into 150 pages and two volumes, has stated in its recommendations that “there is no evidence — archaeological or scientific — to prove the existence of any man-made structure.”

Stung the last time, the committee has safely steered clear of “Ram,” even refraining from using the term “Ram setu” anywhere. And has underlined its existence as a geo-morphological feature/formation similar to those found in several parts of the world. Photos of similar features of chains of shoals have been included in the report. The expert committee report has also cleared the current alignment as the most feasible.

“The report clearly says that there is no tangible evidence to prove any man-made structure at the project location. The Adam’s bridge or Ram Setu is like several other geo-morphological features. The committee, however, has taken viewpoints of all those who wrote to it and appeared before it for a personal hearing. These views have also been put in the report. Its recommendations are in favour of the project after having examined all issues,” a senior official said.

The project envisages dredging of a near 90-km-long channel across the Palk Straits between India and Sri Lanka that will allow ships sailing between the east and west costs of India to have a straight passage through India’s territorial waters, instead of having to circumvent Sri Lanka. This will cut an estimated 780 km and up to 30 hours in sailing distance and time.

The 10-member committee received several representations. Over 2,000 applications from states were posted to the committee for or against the project and with suggestions. Several personal hearings were also held.

So much so that with the massive response to the committee — 130 persons appeared before it within a fortnight of it being formed — the committee sought more than the stipulated one-month time from the government to submit its report.

That report is due to be submitted to the Supreme Court by December 11 but sources told The Sunday Express that the government is likely to buy a little more time to examine the report before submitting it. With the Ministry of Culture’s affidavit having caused enough damage to the project, the UPA wants to tread very carefully this time.

The views raised before the committee span the entire gamut of issues on the controversial project ranging from economic viability to environmental, navigational, security, historical, religious, social and developmental factors.

The expert panel recently came in for criticism with several people questioning the credibility and neutrality of its members, many of whom are actively associated with the project. But the apex court turned down the plea made by Janata Party President Subramaniam Swamy — he has also testified to the committee — that the panel be scrapped and replaced by “independent experts.”

The committee was constituted by the government in October and invited objections and suggestions from all concerned including the petitioners in the cases in the Supreme Court having interest in the project.

Its members are: Prof S Ramachandran, Chairman of the Monitoring Committee on Environmental Impact Issues for the Sethusamudram Shipping Channel Project and Vice Chancellor of Madras University; S R Wate, Deputy Director, National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur; R K Jain, Managing Director, Indian Ports Association; M. Sakthivel, president of Aqua Culture Foundation of India; R S Sharma, former professor of History, Delhi University; Dilip K. Biswas, former chairman of the Central Pollution Control Board; J R B Alfred, former Director of Zoological Survey of India, Kolkata; P. Jagadeesan, former Vice-Chancellor of Bharatidasan University, Tiruchi; Y. Vaikuntham, former VC of Kakatiya University and K. Paddayya, director, Deccan College, Pune.

http://www.indianexpress.com/sunday/story/248271.html

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