Green light?

The public domain has no idea why a controversial project got the go-ahead

Published: Wednesday 15 June 2005

-- the Cabinet Committee for Economic Affairs cleared the Rs 2427 crore plus Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (sscp) on May 19. The very one for which the Prime Minister's Office (pmo) had, about two and a half months ago, raised serious concerns.

In early March the pmo mandated a re-look into the entire project borne out of the December Tsunami disaster, observing that information about the effects of tsunamis and cyclones on the project were ''incomplete''; there were ''huge gaps in the current knowledge about the sedimentation regimes existing in the various micro regions of Palk Bay''. The pmo also commented on the environmental impact assessment (eia) and the technical feasibility report prepared by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (neeri). At that time, the Tuticorin Port Trust, the project's implementing agency, had said that not just neeri but several other agencies had studied the project and prepared reports; therefore, all doubts pmo raised would be cleared. By saying so, they clearly tried to convey that all concerns were taken care of. Was that so? No. What they failed to explain, perhaps understand, was that a tsunami, or cyclones or sedimentation were issues that the eia report had to address; precisely this, the pmo found, was not done.

It not clear whether the project has been given the clearance -- mandatory -- by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board. T R Baalu, the union shipping and road transport minister failed to answer whether the project had a formal "no objection" certificate from them. Thus, once again, environmental clearance procedures have, been ignored and bypassed in hastily clearing a project. In fact sscp has become a pawn in a politicized pre-assembly poll arena. tn chief minister J Jayalalitha of the ruling aiadmk party had written against the project in an article in a leading daily. The main opposition party in Tamil Nadu, the dmk to which Baalu belongs, has been propagating the project as its achievement.

It is not clear what has happened in the past two and half months: we only know ccea has cleared the project, the very one on which the pmo had commented: "Going ahead with the construction of this mega project without collecting information on the above aspects could lead to major economic, technical and human problems in future that could border on a disaster". What we know, we have not been told.

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