Tirunelveli: Fishermen, leaders in the coastal districts of the south have demanded an enquiry into the amount spent for the controversial Sethu project till it was stayed by the Supreme Court on September 1, 2007.
The cost estimation was done in an unscientific manner following the withdrawal of Axis bank from its earlier agreement of offering a loan of about Rs 1,500 crore for the project at 7 per cent interest, alleged Mr Anton Gomez, president of the ILO-affiliated National Union of Fishermen (NUF).
He said the Union government had increased its share from the original Cabinet committee and finance committee-approved Rs 450 crore to Rs 785.88 crore by allotting Rs 150 crore, Rs 111.88 crore and Rs 524 crore in three consecutive Union budgets since 2005. “This revision of the Union government’s share in the Sethusamudram Ship Channel Project (SSCP), however, was not properly approved by Parliament or the Cabinet or finance committee,” said Mr Gomez.
More than that, the contradictory statements of then Union shipping minister T.R. Baalu and Union minister for statistics and programme implementation, Mr G.K. Vasan, over the amount spent for the project for the two years from 2005 raked up the suspicion of gross financial misappropriation in the implementation of the Sethu project.
“While Mr Baalu told the media on September 22, 2007 that Rs 600 crore was spent and 80 per cent of the project was completed, the Union ministry of statistics and programme implementation report (December 2008, page-358) states that Rs 576.71 crore was spent to complete 58 per cent of the project up to March 2008,” noted Mr Gomez, who added that even after the project was stayed by the Supreme Court in September 2007, the government allotted Rs 10 crore for the project in its 2008 budget.
Thus, the fishermen leader smells something fishy in the Sethu project and demands a detailed enquiry before the Union government resuming the project.
Based on the alleged financial malpractice in the SSCP, fishermen leaders like Prof Fathima Babu, M. Pushparayan, John P. Rayan plan to kick-off a mass campaign that is expected to receive the backing of the AIADMK and BJP. “We are working on coordinating our community leaders in the six coastal districts of Tamil Nadu on the issue,” said Prof Fathima Babu, who has written to Greenpeace seeking support in their fight against the Sethu project.