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Blocks Tamil Nadu's mega Sethusamudram project, cleared by other agencies
the Prime Minister's office (pmo) has raised serious concerns about the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (sscp) in Tamil Nadu. The sscp aims to provide a route linking India's eastern and western shores, doing away with the current need to circumnavigate Sri Lanka. In a note issued in the first week of March 2005, the pmo raised many questions about the environmental impact assessment (eia) study on the project carried out by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (neeri) , Nagpur. It has sought many clarifications before according a final approval to the project. The note directs that the clearances issued by the Union ministry of environment and forests (moef) and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to sscp be put on hold till a proper evaluation of specific issues is made. In September 2004, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs had also given a green signal to the project .
The over Rs 2,000 crore project will be implemented by the Tuticorin Port Trust (tpt) . The 152 kilometres (km) long canal will originate from the Tuticorin harbour in the south and run through the Gulf of Mannar, the Palk Bay and the Palk Strait in the north and northeast directions before joining the Bay of Bengal (see map: The shorter route). The canal will be 300 metres (m) wide and 6 km long in the Adam's Bridge area and 68 km long in the Palk Bay and the Palk Strait area. It will be 12 m deep to enable ships with a draught of 10.7 m to pass through. Dredging of the sea bottom will be done in about 74 km length of the canal.
The pmo has also highlighted that that the information furnished by neeri about the effects of tsunamis and cyclones was "incomplete" and there were huge gaps in the knowledge about "the sedimentation regimes existing in the various micro regions of Palk Bay". "The environment impact assessment and the technical feasibility report prepared by neeri have ignored these aspects...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," it says.
The pmo's objections to the project comes as a blow to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (dmk) and some other allies in the ruling coalition at the Centre. These parties have been trumpeting the sscp in the run up to the 2006 Tamil Nadu assembly elections. dmk 's T R Baalu, the Union minister for shipping, road transport and highways, had pressured the moef to give it an early clearance. The project comes under Ballu's ministry. But now the pmo's move has put a question mark on the entire process of approving projects like sscp. It has revealed how environmental concerns take a back seat when political pressure influences the decisions of technical bodies and ministries.