Saturday, February 2, 2008

ASI to undertake a comprehensive survey on Setu

New Delhi, Feb. 1 2008 The Telegraph

The government has decided to stall the Sethusamudram project by going in for a comprehensive appraisal by the Archaeological Survey of India.

The decision was taken yesterday by a group of ministers.

The ASI has been tasked with deciding if the setu is a man-made or a natural structure and if it has any cultural significance in the context of India-Sri Lanka relations.

Realising that the issue was extremely emotive and had the potential to create a “Hindu vote-bank”, the Centre has asked the ASI to undertake a spot survey as well as an underwater study by its team of marine archaeologists.

The fate of the Rs 2,400-crore ship canal project now depends on the report the ASI will hand in.

The decision was taken despite shipping minister and DMK leader T.R. Baalu writing to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for an early resolution to the imbroglio. Sources said the DMK had been pressuring the government to take a quick decision and complete the project before the 2009 elections.

A survey by the ASI means an indefinite delay for the project, which would have provided a direct channel between the east and west coasts and spared ships the bother of going around Sri Lanka.

Union culture minister Ambika Soni reportedly told the GoM — specially formed for the project — that the ASI had never done such a survey before, so it would be very difficult to say anything based on experience.

She said the study would neither be easy nor would be it be completed fast, recalling a survey at Nagarjunakonda that had taken about six years.

A suggestion at the GoM meeting was to get international experts under the aegis of the Unesco to do the survey so that it would be “more neutral and acceptable”.

“The argument was that such a measure would ensure that there are no problems in the future. But the GoM agreed on an ASI survey,” the source said.

The project has been getting entangled in newer problems everyday. Just when environment issues were getting sorted out, the Coast Guard raised concerns about threats to the country’s security. Last week, the navy chief said the canal would not be of any help as it would not be wide enough for big ships to pass through.

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