Government seeks time from SC to spell stand on Sethusamudram project

New Delhi, Nov 26 (IANS) The central government on Thursday sought four weeks’ time from the Supreme Court to spell out its stand on the controversial Sethusamudram project initiated to facilitate navigation between India’s east and west coasts.

Additional Solicitor General Pinaki Anand requested the bench of Chief Justice H.L.Dattu and Justice Arun Mishra for time while seeking an adjournment on Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy’s application to seek an end to the hearing in the matter after the government’s statement in parliament that it was abandoning the project.

Swamy moved the apex court to challenge the project on the basis of religious belief that a ‘Ram Sethu’ – believed to have been built by Lord Rama’s army to cross the Palk Strait into Sri Lanka – exists in the area and sought a national heritage status for it.

The apex court on Monday had directed the listing of the matter on Thursday after Swamy had told the court that the central government has decided to abandon the project and had sought the court’s permission to withdraw his petition against it.

The Sethusamudram project has been facing stiff resistance by some environmentalist and Hindu groups as alignment number 6 in the Palk Strait to facilitate navigation between India’s east and west coasts was to pass through mythological Rama Sethu.

The alternate alignment 4A was to cut through the spit of land just east of Dhanushkodi bypassing and saving the mythical Rama Sethu. But this alternate alignment did not find favour with experts.

The Rajender Pachauri Committee in its report had said the alternate alignment was “neither ecologically nor economically” feasible.

He had given his report after the government asked him to look into the possibility of an alternate alignment 4A.

Pachauri committee was set up by the then United Progressive Alliance central government on July 30, 2008.

Going into pros and cons of the project including rising sea level, extreme weather conditions and the possibility of oil spills, its report had said: “…it can be seen that the project, including the possibility of adopting alignment 4A, 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”.

The report had further said: “It should also be emphasized that prudent adaptation strategy to deal with projected impacts of climate change should ensure that infrastructure investments are made in away that will not pose any risk to life or property”.

“Turning to the economic analysis of the project,” the report had said it was concluded that the benchmark rate of return of 12 percent is not met for a range of scenarios examined in the caste of alignment 4A. The report has further observed that “a more realistic set of assumptions would impact viability adversely even further”.

“Given the doubts raised by the detailed analysis which has been carried out, it is unlikely that the public interest would be served by pursuing the project on the basis of alignment 4A,”it had said.

The UPA government had not accepted the Pachauri Committee’s report, saying it had gone beyond its terms of reference

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