Sethusamudram alternative route not feasible: report

Supreme Court gives Centre eight weeks to decide fate of the project

By Anupam Chakravartty
Published: Monday 02 July 2012

The alternative route alignment proposed under the Sethusamudram project to avoid damage to the Ram Setu or Adam's Bridge will not be ecologically or economically feasible, the Supreme Court was told on Monday. Solicitor General Rohinton Nariman quoted a report by environmentalist R K Pachauri, who headed a Supreme Court appointed committee to assess alternatives for the sea channel to connect the western and eastern coast of India.

imageLater, Nariman told the court that the government is yet to take a view on the report, following which Supreme Court bench of justices H L Dattu and C K Prasad granted the government eight weeks to decide on the fate of the project. The alternative alignment proposes cutting through a spit landform off Dhanushkodi coast in Tamil Nadu to avoid breaching the Ram Setu. However, the Pachauri report, quoted in the Supreme Court, stated that “the alternative alignment could potentially result in ecological threat that could pose a risk to the ecosystem in the surrounding areas and in particular to the biosphere reserve (Gulf of Mannar).” One of the potential risks for the alternative alignment was identified as threat of an oil spill by tankers.

The original plan for Sethusamudram proposes construction of a shorter navigational route around India's southern tip by breaching the Ram Setu or Adam's Bridge made of limestone shoals, connecting Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar (see map). The shipping channel is proposed to be 30 metres wide, 12 metres deep and 167 km long; the total cost of the project is estimated at around Rs 2,400 crores.

Janata Party president Subramaniam Swamy has challenged the project in the Supreme Court, saying Ram Setu should be declared a national monument because of its mythological value,  and that out of the total 34.45 million cubic metres (mcm) of sea bed to be dredged from the Palk Strait, 16.9 mcm material from the seabed had already been excavated. A substantial portion of the Ram Setu, 9.51 mcm material out of a total proposed 48.05 mcm, had been dredged by 2008. 

Incidentally, even breaching Ram Setu for constructing the channel will threaten the Gulf of Mannar Marine Biosphere Reserve, say environmental organisations in Tamil Nadu. Further, fishing communities would be majorly affected in both India and Sri Lanka.



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