The Centre’s decision to reject the report of the R K Pachauri Committee on the Sethusamudram project is unfortunate. The committee has found the project economically and environmentally unviable. In ordinary circumstances, the report should have been the last word on the subject. What prompted the United Progressive Alliance government to go ahead with the controversial project is the pressure tactics employed by the DMK. The project is aimed at linking Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar between India and Sri Lanka by creating a shipping channel through the shallow sea. It will be the single most expensive sea project India has ever undertaken.
Opposition to the project is on economic, environmental and religious grounds. Unlike the Suez and Panama canals, which are land-based, the proposed canal is sea-based. Experts are divided on the economic viability of the Sethusamudram project. Ecologists are upset because the project will break the limestone shoals in the Palk Straits, home to precious underwater organisms and plants. These shoals were created over several millenniums and should be treated as a world heritage. For millions of people, these shoals are the visible remains of the Ram Setu constructed during the Tretha Yuga and described in Valmiki’s Ramayana.
All this shows that the project is divisive in character with no certainties of profit. Since the Pachauri panel has found it unviable, the government should abandon it. It is true that the Palk Strait is shallow and large vessels headed for India’s eastern coast have to navigate around Sri Lanka. There are alternative proposals, which will save the underwater heritage while opening the Palk Straits to large ships but they are far more expensive. At a time when political harmony is necessary to face the mounting challenges confronting the nation, it will be disastrous to persist with a project that will destroy a national heritage and hurt the religious sentiments of a majority of the people.