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A Bridge Too Far

A Bridge Too Far

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Times of India
Date: February 2, 2008
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Opinion/Editorial/A_Bridge_Too_Far/articleshow/2749721.cms

Introduction: Government should rethink the Sethusamudram project

The Coast Guard chief has added a new twist to the Sethusamudram controversy. He thinks that the proposed shipping canal is vulnerable to terror strikes from non-state actors in the region. Recently, the naval chief was quoted as saying that the canal may be too small for large ships. The project has already attracted undue opposition from political parties, religious groups and environmentalists. So, is the canal project worth pursuing?

Pro-project parties claim that Sethusamudram will boost shipping activities in the region. It can trigger an economic boom in coastal Tamil Nadu, they say. Experts have questioned these claims. The security threat may have come at a politically opportune moment for the UPA government that is under pressure from the DMK, an ally and the party in office in Tamil Nadu, to implement the project while the AIADMK, the main opposition party in TN, and the BJP, are opposed to the project for different reasons. But they have raised the security angle to push their case.

The UPA government should ask itself if it is worth its while to push the Rs 2,600-crore project in the absence of a consensus on its viability. What is the project worth if large vessels can't cruise through the channel? The security concerns are real; the LTTE operates along the route and can be a threat to trade in the region.

These can be overcome but the added expenses of surveillance and patrolling will increase the cost of maintaining the channel. Environmentalists argue that massive dredging operations are necessary to prevent the natural formation of sand banks and to maintain the depth of the channel. The shipping canal, according to environmentalists, might affect the Gulf of Mannar biosphere reserve. The livelihood of hundreds of fishermen is also under threat.

These issues merit consideration and detailed study. Instead, the project has snowballed into a confrontation between scientific logic and religious faith. The issue here is not whether Lord Ram built a bridge. Many scientific bodies have concluded that the Ram Setu or Adam's Bridge is a natural structure formed of sand banks. But the economic gains from the project do not seem sufficient to merit so much investment in capital and time from the government. The Archaeological Survey of India can determine the origins of the setu to satisfy the curiosity of interested parties, but it amounts only to a wastage of public funds. A better option is to abandon the project and move on.

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