No takers for ‘unviable’ Setu project

No takers for ‘unviable’ Sethusamudram project

Sam Daniel

Wednesday, January 16, 2008 (Chennai)

The Sethusamudram controversy will figure in the Supreme Court on Wednesday with the three-month deadline for the Centre’s response on the issue coming to an end.
But the government is likely to ask for two more weeks’ time to file its affidavit so that it could come up with a face-saving agreement, between the Shipping ministry, which is pushing for the expert committee report, which concluded that the Ram Setu was not man-made.
The Culture ministry, which says no archaeological study, endorses this stand.
But as the wrangling continues in Court, here is another point to ponder.
Will shipping companies use the controversial Sethusamudram Channel after completion? Well the answer could be a big no.
While the ruling DMK is spearheading the project, a state-owned shipping company has refused to entertain an RTI petition on this in Tamilnadu, giving credence to the view that the project may not be economically viable.
Even a Shipping company owned by the Tamil Nadu government seems to have not made up its mind on using the Sethusamudram Channel after its completion.
On a petition filed under the RTI, the state owned Poompuhar Shipping Corporation has no answer on possible savings in distance, time and fuel by their vessels sailing from the West to the East coast of India.
This denial of information on technical grounds has led this petitioner a retired IAS officer to believe that an inconvenient truth is being withheld that could expose the economic unviability of the project.
Precisely what maritime experts have been harping on. Activists are now demanding a white paper on this aspect from the Central government.
”This corporation which will derive maximum mileage, I thought would have worked out all of this. They say the information is not available in the records of the Poompuhar Shipping Corporation,” said AK Venkata Subramanian, Catalyst Trust.
”It is surprising. Any organisation worth the salt will think ahead for the next five years or ten years,” he added.
”By sailing through the Sethusamudram Channel, a shipping company loses nineteen lakh rupees from Kolkotta to Tuticorin,” said Captain H Balakrishnan, Maritime expert.
The project aims at providing a continuous navigation channel between the East and West coast of India, without circumnavigating Sri Lanka.
But the delay in implementation could cost the project forty percent more, touching a whopping four thousand crore rupees, and the channel could become all the more expensive to use.
But the DMK’s Shipping Minister, TR Baalu, is sticking to his guns, and says the project will be a boon to his home state.
Even as the central government is fighting the Ram Sethu issue in the Supreme Court, the shipping companies in Tamil Nadu seem to have their own reservations about the much-hyped project.
And it is not just Poompuhar Shipping Corporation, NDTV contacted six private companies as well. None of them are willing to echo the Shipping Ministry’s claim that it will be economically viable.


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