After 150 years

After 150 years The Union government has cleared the decks for the Sethusamudram Ship Channel Project (sscp). The project is part of the United Progressive Alliance government's Common Minimum Programme. It aims to create a route linking India's eastern and western shores by dredging a ship channel across the Palk Straits. Once in operation, the canal will obviate the need of ships from the eastern part of the country to circumnavigate the Palk straits in order to reach the western shores, and vice-versa.

sscp was conceived 150 years ago. It was taken up periodically, both during colonial times and in independent India, only to be rejected as unfeasible. This time too there were concerns galore from environmentalists. Even the Prime Minister's o ffice (pmo) raised concerns.These were all rejected once the Cabinet Committee of Economic Affairs took the decision to go ahead with the project on May 19, 2005. And on the following day T R Baalu, Union minister of shipping, highways and road transport announced that the foundation stone of sscp would be laid in the third week of June, 2005. The project will be completed in three and a half years.

sscp is estimated to cost Rs 2,427.40 crore: a capital cost of Rs 2,233 crore and financing cost of Rs 194.40 crore. The total length of the proposed channel will be about 167 kilometers (km). It will involve dredging 89 km of the historic Adam's Bridge on the Palk Straits. Environmentalists fear that the project would cause fish, seamammals and other fauna to migrate to deeper gulf regions and also reduce the fishing area. They also apprehend heavy pollution by the vessels.

On March 20, 2005 the pmo too had questioned the environment impact assessment (eia) report of the project. It had noted that the report, prepared by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (neeri), N agpur, did not allay apprehensions that the project would actually exacerbate effects of tsunami-like cyclones. There were huge gaps in information, the pmo had noted (see:

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