SC"s verdict on Sethusamudram offers no respite

The Supreme Court has ordered the union government to "explore the possibility' of an alternative alignment (a route) for the Sethusamudram project and asked the Archaeological Survey of India to find out if Rama Setu was a man-made structure.

The direction, which came on May 8, has given a respite to the opponents. Environm-entalists say the environmental and economic hazards remain. This is the seventh alignment proposed for the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project since independence. Currently, the government wants to build the shipping canal along alignment-6. Religious activists favour alignment-4 saying it will not damage the Rama Setu. The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests rejected the alignment in 1998 on grounds that it was close to the marine national park of the Gulf of Mannar and will pass through the Shingle island.

"All alignments are close to the Gulf of Mannar. Only alignment-6 is 20 km away from the Shingle island,' says Sudarshan Rodriguez of the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment, Bangalore. "In all cases, opening up the natural barriers from Palk Bay to the Gulf of Mannar will let in huge amount of sediments, affecting the region's biodiversity,' he adds.

"The court's suggestions are not binding on the government. On the next date of hearing, on July 22, it can very well come up without conducting any study. But what is frightening is that the government might move back to alignment-4 to appease religious sentiments,' said an environmentalist.