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Sethu project has security issues, says Coast Guard

The Coast Guard also says the controversial shipping canal project shares its maritime boundary with Sri Lanka.

india Updated: Jan 31, 2008 16:36 IST

The controversial Sethusamudram shipping canal project has "security implications" and these have been "conveyed" to the government, the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) chief said on Thursday.

"There are security implications because of the closeness of the India-Sri Lanka maritime boundary," Vice Admiral Rusi Contractor told reporters in New Delhi ahead of the 31st anniversary of the ICG.

"We have conveyed these implications to the government. Complications are there and I am sure these will be addressed," he added.

Contractor, however, declined to say whether there had been any response from the government.

Asked to elaborate on the "security implications" and "complications", the ICG chief said: "If the seaway is opened up, there could be issues of piracy. Then, in a narrow channel, if a ship has problems (while crossing), this has to be addressed."

"There is also the question of the close proximity (of the maritime boundary) with a country with which there is a problem existing," Contractor said.

The project involves dredging a canal in the Indian Ocean between India and Sri Lanka. Several Hindu groups as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have opposed the project, saying it would affect a formation known as Ram Setu that is mentioned in the Hindu epic Ramayana.

Ironically, the BJP had given the project in-principle approval when it was in power in 2003. However, there has been forward movement only in the last two years with Shipping and Surface Transport Minister TR Baalu giving the project his full backing.

Baalu belongs to the DMK of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K Karunanidhi that is a constituent of India's ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

Environmental groups have also opposed the Sethusamudram project, saying it would destroy the fragile ecosystem of the area.

The Supreme Court has stayed the project pending the resolution of all contentious issues.

On Sunday, Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy dovetailed all popular concerns over the Sethusamudram, scientific, ecological, security and religious, at the launch in Chennai of Paalam (Bridge), a film on dangers of continuing with the project.

The 71-minute film lends voice to the concerns expressed on the much-debated project.

Citing statistics, Swamy termed the project "a danger to ecology and India's defence". He contended that nearly 95 per cent of ocean-going vessels have a displacement weight exceeding 60,000 tonnes, which means only a few will benefit from the project.

"If this project becomes a reality, it will result in a Rs 30 billion annual loss to the national exchequer and this amount will go up every year. This much is clear because the canal will have a depth of only 12 metres and it will be impossible for ships weighing more than 30,000 tonnes to cross it - meaning over 95 per cent of the ships in the world cannot use it at all," said Swamy.

Swamy claimed during the function that the Indian Navy Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta had expressed similar sentiments but had been ticked off by Baalu "for speaking the truth".