The vexed Sethusamudram project — which proposes to provide a navigable shipping channel across the Palk Straits between India and Sri Lanka — could see the light of day with the Centre set to clear an alternative route that avoids dredging through the Ram Setu.
Sources told HT that the Union cabinet will very shortly give its nod to the proposed new alignment, which will not damage the Ram Setu structure. The project, which would considerably reduce the time and distance travelled by ships between India’s west and east coast had led to acrimonious exchanges between the Congress and the BJP during the UPA-I regime over the proposal to dredge through the Ram Setu — a bridge believed to have been built by Lord Ram — considered a cultural and religious heritage.
Environmentalists had also opposed the project on the ground that destruction of the bridge would lead to loss of a rich thorium reserve in that area. The Supreme Court had in 2010 stayed further work on the project. “Once the cabinet clears the alternate route, an affidavit will be filed in the Supreme Court,” said a source.
The Sethusamundran Ship Canal Project will create a navigable channel connecting the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay by dredging the stretch of shallow sea between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka.
The shipping ministry, which had appointed Rail India Technical and Economic Service (RITES), a government consultancy firm, to do a pre-feasibility study has suggested that the government can use an already existing channel passing through the Pamban cantilever bridge that connects the town of Rameswaram to mainland India.
RITES has given two options: The first one involves dredging the channel without any modification to the rail bridge. This would allow ships of up to 3,000 tonne to pass through and would entail an investment of approximately Rs 500 crore. The second option involves major restructuring of the bridge and deep dredging which would allow passage of ships of up to 8,000 tonne.