The government on Monday failed to give a time-frame to place before the Supreme Court the report of the expert committee examining the feasibility of the controversial Sethusamudram project through Dhanuskodi instead of Rama Sethu.
However, the Centre said the preliminary report of the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), which according to the opponents of the project has doubted its feasibility, cannot be taken as final and binding on the expert committee headed by environmentalist R K Pachauri.
The affidavit, filed by the Ministry of Shipping, said the expert committee in its November 10 meeting had discussed the inputs provided by the NIO and further nominated it for conducting the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) in eighteen
"Hence, at this juncture NIO's preliminary report cannot be taken as final and binding on the expert committee. In view of the decision of the expert committee taken in the meeting on November 10, the final report for the EIA has to be awaited before the Committee come to a final conclusion about the feasibility of the alternative alignment as the impact of environment is one of the most important aspects for the construction of channel," the affidavit said.
The government's stand was in response to an application moved by Janata Party chief Subramanian Swamy seeking scrapping of the controversial Sethusamudram project claiming NIO, which is the expert body of government, has doubted its feasibility.
However, the Bench reminded Additional Solicitor General Harin Raval that it has been waiting for over 16 months for the report of the expert committee since it reserved its verdict on July 30, 2008, on the bunch of petitions challenging the execution of the project.
"We were informed that the expert committee will make an exhaustive study. Tell us how much time you will take to place the report," the Bench said adding "you must have discussed with the committee".
The ASG said he was not in touch with the committe but with the government and try to get the information. "I will ask the government to get in touch with the Committee and whether it can come out with an interim report," Raval told the Bench.
The ASG suggested even NIO will take a year or so to collect data on EIA as the study of ocean for collecting data cannot be completed in three or four months.
Taking on record the government affidavit, the court posted the matter for further hearing on February 23 next.
The Supreme Court had asked the committee to examine the feasibility of carrying the scheme through alternative alignment running on land north of Dhanushkodi to avoid any damage to Rama Sethu.
It had on November 3 asked the government to convey its stand on a report of NIO which allegedly doubted the feasibility of the project.
The Pachauri Committee had outsourced the work of examining the feasibility of the project to NIO which had submitted its report to the government in March, Swamy had claimed.