A high-level committee has suggested that an alternative route,other than cutting through the mythological Ram Sethu,for the controversial Sethusamudram project is not economically and ecologically feasible,government today told the Supreme Court.
Placing the committee’s 37-page report before a bench of justices H L Dattu and C K Prasad,Solicitor General Rohinton Nariman submitted that the Union Cabinet was yet to consider and take a decision on it.
Appointed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,the panel,headed by eminent environmentalist R K Pachauri,analysed various aspects and said the alternate route aimed to protect Ram Sethu,also called Adams Bridge,was not an acceptable option and not in public interest.
“On the basis of the analysis and the importance of observing a risk management approach,both in ecological as well as economic terms,it appears questionable whether Alignment 4A (east of Dhanushkodi) represents an attractive or even an acceptable option.
“Given the doubt 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,” the report said.
Questioning the viability of the alternate route,the committee said the project could pose a serious threat to the ecology and further analysis needed to be done on the project’s feasibility in such a fragile ecological zone.
“For the foregoing,it can be seen that the project,including the possibility of adopting Alignment 4A,could potentially result in ecological threats that could pose a risk to the ecosystem in the surrounding area and in particular,to the biosphere reserve,” the report said.
After a brief hearing,the bench granted the government eight weeks time to apprise it about its stand on the project.
The case relating to Ram Sethu came under judicial scrutiny due to a batch of petitions filed in the apex court against the ambitious Sethusamudram project,whose execution allegedly could damage the mythological bridge.
Sethusamudram project is aimed at constructing a shorter navigational route around India’s southern tip by breaching the Ram Sethu,said to have been built by Lord Rama’s army of monkeys and bears to the demon king Ravana’s kingdom Lanka.
As per the Sethusamudram project,the shipping channel is proposed to be 30 metres wide,12 metres deep and 167 kms long.
The Prime Minister appointed the committee after the apex court had asked the government to explore an alternate route to prevent damage to the mythological bridge.
The committee,in its report,raised questions on the alternate route after taking into account various aspects including it’s economic and ecological assessment.
“Turning to the economic analysis of the project,it is concluded that the benchmark rate of return of 12 percent is not met for the range of scenarios examined in the case of Alignment 4A. It is also concluded that a more realistic set of assumption would impact viability adversely even further,” the report said.
“It would be difficult to conclude that past trends in the frequency and the intensity of cyclonic activities would remain unaltered. This again is a matter that requires rigorous analysis using global climate models suitably down scaled to come up with some range of estimates on projected cyclonic activity.
“In other words,for infrastructure to be created in such a fragile ecological zone,a rigorous analysis of possible scenarios related to the impacts of climate change would be critical in decision-making that aims to minimise risk both in economic as well as ecological terms,” the report said.
According to the report,there is possibility of oil spills which cannot be eliminated or prevented completely and it would pose serious threat to the biosphere reserve.
“Another important aspect of risk management relates to the possibility of oil spills which,even with the most stringent measures and precautions,would be difficult to rule out completely.
“The study clearly finds that oil spills could possibly pose a risk to the biosphere reserve which needs to be protected under all conditions,” it said.
Earlier,on April 19,the Centre had refused to take any stand on the issue of declaring Ram Sethu a national monument and had asked the Supreme Court instead to decide on the issue.
The government had said that it would stand by its earlier affidavit,filed in 2008 and cleared by the Cabinet Committee of Political Affairs (CCPA),in which it had said that it respects all religions and was of view that it should not be called upon to respond to the issues of faith,except in recognising their existence.
The amended affidavit was filed after the Centre had withdrawn its two affidavits in which it had questioned the existence of Lord Ram and Ram Sethu.
Following an outcry led by the Sangh Parivar over the controversial submissions,the apex court on September 14,2007 had allowed the Centre to re-examine entire material afresh to review the Rs 2,087 crore project.