Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Govt set to dump Sethu project?, Santanu Banerjee, New Delhi

Risking the Left and the DMK wrath, Congress president Sonia Gandhi has informed CPI general secretary AB Bardhan that the UPA Government may not go ahead with Sethusamudram project.

Bardhan, who met Sonia on Monday, was told that the Centre was reluctant to pursue the project as it would provide the BJP with an emotive issue in the run up to the next general elections, source said.

Expressing his displeasure, sources said, Bardhan told Sonia that shelving the project at this stage would imply dumping 60 per cent of Government's fund (already spent) into "ocean of waste".

Incidentally, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK leader M Karunanidhi had repeatedly made known his unhappiness on slow progress of the project.

The Sethu project has become a major issue in Tamil Nadu and Karunanidhi has reportedly threatened the Congress of serious political consequences if the project was shelved.

Karunanidhi's bitter political foe and AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa has been demanding that Ram Setu be declared a monument of national heritage and she has gone to the Supreme Court seeking direction to authorities to take alternative routes for completing the project without demolishing Ram Setu.

According to sources, the issue of the Sethusamudram project came up for discussion when Bardhan called on Sonia to discuss delay in execution of some Government projects.

The sources said in addition to the concern about giving the BJP a political agenda, the Government has also come under pressure from security and intelligence agencies to dump the project.

The sources said security agencies had warned the North Block that on completion the project would provide easy passage to LTTE cadre to sneak into India.

Recently, the Director-General of Coast Guard had gone on record saying the project would pose security risk to the country.

In the past weeks, the Government dropped enough hints about its intention to go slow on the project. It sought repeated adjournments for filing the affidavit on the two-fold issues regarding historicity of Ram Setu and the alignment of the project.

Sources said even though the Left might not raise the type of noise it made on India-US civilian nuclear deal, but it would use the opportunity to criticise the Congress for compromising the "secular" credentials of the UPA Government.

Meanwhile, in Chennai a DMK spokesman, when contacted by The Pioneer, said it would not be possible for the party to comment on the issue, without knowing the full details of the Centre's position.

"As far as we are concerned, we will continue to insist that the Sethusamudram project be implemented fully," DMK organising secretary TKS Elangovan said.

There was no change in the DMK's stand on the project that the UPA Government should not give in to pressure from any quarters, he said.

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