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Dredging strait will be disastrous

The rejection of the AK Pachauri Committee report on the Setusamudaram project comes as a surprise. This committee was set up by the Supreme Court to examine impartially the issue of dredging of a section of the Palk Strait for building a shipping canal after the government’s decision to do so was disputed by religious groups and environmentalists. This committee has rejected the demand for dredging as uneconomical and ecologically unfriendly. The Supreme Court gave the issue to a panel of experts to examine as the government failed to satisfy the apex judicial body’s doubts in the matter. The Sethusamudarm project has been controversial with religious and cultural groups because this particular section of the Palk Strait is historically and mythologically famous as the site of a bridge built by Lord Rama. It is feared by a section of the people that dredging will remove whatever remains of this bridge, if it was ever built. According to the believers, even if the bridge was never built historically, the site has been held sacred by sections of Hindus and its destruction would cause them immense distress.

However, there are serious environmental implications as well. The dredging of the Palk Strait will leave India and Sri Lanka open to violent storms that flow in from the Indian Ocean. So far, the rocks in the Palk Strait, that comprise the remains of the ‘bridge’, act as a breakwater preventing these storms from invading the land mass. In addition, the dredging will change the pattern of rainfall in South India, as also Sri Lanka, thus proving adverse to the local ecology and to human and animal life. Marine life in several parts of the Palk Strait will also be affected, with several species likely to go extinc,t as the shelter provided to them by the rocks would be removed. The Pachauri committee has not been affected by religious considerations but has only studied the economic and ecological aspects. Its rejection by the government thus makes little sense. The government should not give in to crass commercial interests overriding the cultural and ecological arguments. It must not favour a few mercenary parties over and above the long-term interests of the people and the environmental health of the region.
MPost

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