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Sethu project hits TN hurdle

                                                                                                     The Pioneer, New Delhi, 30th April, 2013

The Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project has run into a legal complication with the Tamil Nadu Government questioning how the project could commence without the mandatory clearance being taken from the State Coastal Zone Management Authority.

The project had earlier failed to get clearance from an expert committee, headed by renowned environmental scientist RK Pachauri, which termed it “economically and ecologically unviable”. Rejecting the committee report, the Centre informed the Supreme Court that the project was still on.

In response to the Centre’s stand, the Tamil Nadu Government’s affidavit said, “The Environmental Clearance given for the project earlier by Government of India suffers infirmity.” It pointed out that under the Coastal Regulatory Zone Notification 2011, if any activity is to be undertaken within 12 nautical miles of the coastal zone, the TN Coastal Zone Management Authority’s clearance is mandatory. “The project ought not to have been commenced without the concurrence of the State Government and without any specific management plan to mitigate the adverse impact on fisheries,” it said.

The State sought a direction to the Centre not to take any action to implement the project considering eco-fragility of surrounding area, questionable economic value, and its impact on lakhs of fishermen who have earned a livelihood from this trade for decades together. The Centre has been granted 12 weeks to respond to TN’s charge and the matter has been posted for hearing in August.

The affidavit further revealed that the environmental clearance given by Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) on March 31, 2005 was based on rapid environment impact assessment carried out by National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) which lacked a comprehensive assessment, was prepared prior to Tsunami that hit TN coast on December 26, 2004 and failed to incorporate objections from affected villages.

The project was initially planned along a route cutting through the Rama Sethu or Adam’s Bridge, believed to have been built by Lord Rama. The Court’s intervention forced the Centre to study an alternate route. But the Pachauri Committee struck down both routes due to the ecological impact on the surrounding Gulf of Mannar biosphere as also the economic disadvantage.

The State supported the demand to declare Rama Sethu as a national monument and sought reconsideration of the project keeping in mind the sensitive religious sentiments of the people of the country, besides the economic and ecological viability.