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The UPA government may have rejected the findings of the R. K. Pachauri committee , which studied the controversial Sethusamudram project , but the panel head is resolute on each and every observation made in the report.
Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, the head of the government-appointed eight-member committee, told Mail Today on Wednesday that not only is the present proposed alignment – 4A – of the Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project (SSCP) “economically nonviable”, but some of the assumptions (made by the government) about the economic returns from the project are also “over optimistic”.
Pachauri made this claim four days after the UPA government submitted an affidavit to the Supreme Court citing the project’s “economic, navigational and strategic advantages” as reasons to pursue the controversial project, which cuts through the mythological “Ram Setu”, despite the panel’s observations.
In an exclusive interview to Mail Today , Pachauri defended his team’s “purely scientific findings” and wished “luck” to the UPA government if it ” still” wanted to proceed with the project.
The scientist dismissed the government’s proposal as outdated.
According to him, the last major project of a similar scale was the “Panama Canal”. “That’s the only one I can think of, and even that was more than a century ago… In those days, people did not think in ecological, environmental terms, the way we do now. We also have computers, technology, science, stimulation and other stuff that can help us see the larger picture, picture for the future… We should use it now, rely on it,” Pachauri said.
Defending his team’s findings, he said: ” As for our scientific study, our dedicated team did it for a period of over one year, taking into account different factors and circumstances. We considered two parameters in the study – the project’s impact on ecology and economy – and no one can find any fault with it whatsoever.”
The panel report, a copy of which is with Mail Today, states: “From the foregoing, it can be seen that the project, including the possibility of adopting the alignment 4A, could potentially result in ecological threats that could pose a risk to the ecosystems in the surrounding area and, in particular, to the biosphere reserve.” The report punctures holes in some of the key economic claims of the government.
It states that the “benchmark rate of return of 12 per cent isn’t met for the range of scenarios examined in the case of alignment 4A”. Pachauri said, “We found it economically unviable. Assumptions of the rate of return and other economic parameters were much too ‘optimistic’. The return was not even meeting the Planning Commission set 12 per cent rate of return.”
The report concludes: “Given the doubts raised by the detailed analysis, it is unlikely that the public interest would be served by pursuing the project on the alignment 4A.” Pachauri also warned against other variables such as risk of oil spills, cyclones, tsunamis and other natural threats. “There was a massive cyclone at the very spot in 1964. One has to take into account the impact of such natural phenomena. Besides we also have to keep in mind climate change, its impact on the (rising) sea levels and their relation to the project,” he said.
About the breach of the ‘ Ram Setu’, Pachauri said: ” The 4A alignment that we surveyed will require cutting through ‘that’ which is called the part of ‘Ram Setu’ by some people… but of course, our study has entirely been based on science and has got nothing to do with any religion.” He said if the government rejects alignment 4A, it could possibly take years to work out another alignment.
“All the other existing alignments have already been ruled out by the SC and other authorities… In fact, it was the SC that asked the government to get a scientific study done on this alignment, and now that we have found it unviable… finding a new one could take some years,” he said.