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Sethu project is a security threat: Coast Guard DG

Sethu project is a security threat: Coast Guard DG

Publication: The Pioneer
Date: February 2, 2008

Adding fuel to the Ram Setu controversy, Director-General of Indian Coast Guard has cautioned that the Sethusamudram project poses a national security hazard and also conveyed his concern over the project to the Government.

"We have already mounted a strong vigil on the country's southern coastal waters. Projects like the Sethusamudram could bring in more security problems," said Coast Guard chief Vice Admiral RF Contractor.

The candid admission by the DG came on the sidelines of a media interaction on the occasion of the 31st anniversary of ICG. However, he added that security measures would be put in place once the channel becomes operational.

His view follows the comment made by Naval Chief Vice-Admiral Sureesh Mehta who said the project could hamper the movement of bigger vessels, including those employed by the Indian Navy.

When asked whether the Coast Guard had conveyed its concerns to the Government, Contractor said that both the Navy and Coast Guard were asked to give their views prior to the project being cleared.

Contractor hinted at the close proximity of India-Sri Lanka maritime border as the cause of worry. The Coast Guard had mounted a round-the-clock aerial and sea vigil in the Palk Bay as well as Gulf of Mannar to guard against infiltration of Sri Lankan armed militants into India. Though the number of Tamil migrants from Sri Lanka had dropped this year, after almost touching a high of 16,619 last year, "security centres are active in all places where antecedents of refugees coming from Sri Lanka are being checked," he added.

The statement by the DG gave a good handle to the leading Opposition party BJP that decried the Government's attempts to override such a serious concern. On Thursday, the BJP upped the ante against the Government on the viability of the project. "We are not against the Sethusamudram project. But if the senior-most official of the Coast Guard is talking about security concerns, it is a big thing," said BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad.

Speaking to reporters, Prasad hoped the concerns of the Coast Guard would be reflected in the affidavit to be filed in the Supreme Court.

The VHP has also reacted to the security concerns raised by the Coast Guard and said no one should be allowed to play with the national security.

"As, experts of different fields have already expressed concerns over the project, the Government should file an affidavit immediately before the Supreme Court to save Ram Setu," said Vinod Bansal, media chief of the Rameswaram Ram Setu Raksha Manch, Delhi.

Pointing out that the Navy Chief and Coast Guard chief are the two final authorities, entrusted with the task of national security, Bansal said the Government should scrap the project to ensure safety and security of the region and save the tax payer's money.

The Centre, meanwhile, seems tied up with political compulsions from within and outside to give a response to the Supreme Court, which is hearing a batch of petitions relating to the continuation of the project. Already the Supreme Court has stayed dredging activities in or around Ram Setu.

Appearing before a Bench headed by Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan, Additional Solicitor-General (ASG) R Mohan informed the Court on Thursday that the Centre is yet to finalise the affidavit to be filed in relation to the matter. On January 16, the Court directed the Centre to file its affidavit within two weeks following which hearing in the matter was to take place.

The Bench comprising of Justices RV Raveendran and JM Panchal allowed four weeks time to the Centre posting the matter in the first week of March. Janata Party president Subramanium Swamy, who has filed two petitions challenging the Government's decision to destroy the natural bridge, urged the Court to direct the Centre to file separate affidavits on the aspects of alignment of the project and on the investigations conducted by the Government to determine the historicity of the Ram Setu.

The Government had incurred a loss of face following its affidavit filed in Apex Court in September 2007. In its bid to rubbish the petitioner's claims of declaring Ram Setu an ancient monument, the Government declared that the mythological text of Ramayan could not be considered a "historical record" for lack of any scientific study or proof. It thus refuted the "existence or the occurrence of events depicted therein".

Courting controversy for its alleged denial of Lord Ram, the Centre withdrew the Ministry of Culture's affidavit from court promising to file a better one after conducting a detailed study of the objections raised by the petitioners. An expert committee constituted for this purpose submitted its report to the Government, which is to finalise its response to be given to Court.

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