Rama Setu: hush-hush Setu committee procedures

Contrary to the public announcements that the committee procedures will be for public hearings the deliberations are being held in a secretive setting. The persons who have submitted petitions are NOT being given the date and time for the public hearing. During the hearing, only the petitioner is allowed inside without any journalists or lawyers being allowed to be present. The whole proceedings are designed to arbitrarily shut out expression of views, lack transparency and are patently an unjust, unfair process, contrary to law and certainly contrary to the undertakings given to the Hon’ble Supreme Court by the counsel for the Union of India.  

 In Transferred Case (Civil) No. 25/2007 filed by Rama Gopalan and Transferred Case (Civil) No. 26/2007 filed by Dr Subramanian Swamy, Gopal Subramanium, Additional Solicitor General of India, appearing on behalf of the Union government, made the following submission to the Supreme Court, while withdrawing a detailed affidavit which had been filed earlier by the Ministry of Culture on 10/11 September, 2007:

‘The said affidavit was based upon the instruction provided and material made available till then. The Central government has taken note of the wide-ranging public sentiment which has been expressed in respect of the decision of the Central government to proceed with… ‘The Central government has total respect for all religions, and Hinduism in particular, in the context of the present case.  The Central Government is alive and conscious of religious sensibilities, including the unique, ancient and holy text of Ramayana.  Having regard to public sentiments, and having regard to the fact that representations including additional material, are being brought to the attention of the Government since the filing of this affidavit, the Central government, without any reservation, in a spirit of inclusiveness and high democratic traditions, to consider a different point of view, withdraws the present affidavit, to re-examine the entire matter. The government assures all concerned that all materials will be re-scrutinised with care and circumspection, including any alternative suggestion. The Central government is also keen that its decisions bind and bring the society together rather than cause any disruption in the religious and social psyche of one true India. The matter may be adjourned to enable the government to review the matter, the government seeks three months’ time for the purpose.”

Apart from the fact that inadequate time was given to concerned citizens to submit their objections/suggestions/ proposals, the procedures inhibited submission in regional languages by insisting that the submissions should be only in English.  

There is no indication that the Committee will seek out the opinions of experts since the following disciplines vital to an understanding of the project implications have NOT been included on the Committee: Geologists, Oceanographers, Tsunami expert, marine experts, nautical experts, National Security experts, Atomic Minerals experts, Geopolitics experts, experts in the Law of the Sea and International conventions, representative of coastal people organizations (fishermen in particular), Marine archaeologists.  Arrangements have to be made by the Union of India, to obtain the views of experts from Srilanka and to conduct public hearings, to remedy the deficiencies of two hearings which were unfairly done in January and February 2005.  

A member of the Centre’s Setu Channel Committee has reportedly said:”The committee will accept these views till October 31 in writing and then also hold personal hearing. The committee will come up with a final report by November 11 as stipulated and this will be submitted to the apex court.”

http://www.indianexpress.com/story/229385.html

The committee has not even shown the courtesy of acknowledging the submissions made and indicating to the petitioners the time and date for personal hearing. The petitioners are expected to huddle under a shamiana in front of the office of the committee on Greenways Road and wait for their turn to be called in, after they are made to wait. Some of the petitioners were asked why they would like to offer personal opinions when the submissions have been made in writing.  Clearly, the Committee seems to be in a hurry to push through the farcical exercise to meet the pre-determined deadline for submission of their report, that is, on November 11, 2007. How could the Committee prejudge the number of submissions expected and the time it would take for the Committee members to carefully study and deliberate on the submissions made involving technical issues with which the individual committee members may not be fully conversant and hence would warrant consultation with concerned experts of specific disciplines? With this Nov. 11 date for report submission, it is clear that pseudo-public hearings will be conducted only in Chennai and it is clear that the Committee will not visit coastal areas and other places.  This undue, unnecessary haste in report submission within 5 days after the final date of hearing, makes the Committee deliberations a farce. Clearly, there will no exercise of due diligence to evaluate all submissions and to seek views of many experts such as: geologists, marine archaeologists, maritime experts, defence experts, oceanographers, experts in the Law of the Sea and economists.

Press Notes issued by the Committee on different dates: 29 Oct. 2007 (Min. of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways Press Note)

The Committee of Eminent Persons on Sethu Samudram Shipping Channel Project has commenced hearings of persons interested in this project at its office at Malligai, No. 30/95, P.S. Kumarasamy Raja (Greenways) Road, Chennai – 600 028 from 29th October, 2007 at 1000 hrs. The Committee reiterated that all persons interested in Sethu Samudram Shipping Channel Project, if they so wish, can appear before the Committee between 1000 hrs. to 1700 hrs. from 29th October, 2007 to 3rd November, 2007 at its office.
All such persons intending to be heard personally, except the writ Petitioners in court cases mentioned in the Order dated 5th October, 2007 of Cabinet Secretariat, shall have to produce either acknowledgement issued by the Office of the Committee or the Postal receipt in token of the fact that they have sent their objections/suggestions to the Committee.

http://pib.nic.in/release/release.asp?relid=32261

23 Oct. 2007 (Min. of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways Press Note)

The Committee of Eminent Persons on Sethu Samudram Shipping Channel Project held its second meeting on 23rd October, 2007 in its office at Malligai, Chennai. Seven Members were present in the meeting.
The Sethu Samudram Corporation Limited made a detailed presentation on the salient features of the Project to the Members of the Committee.
The Committee noted that 60 submissions have been received till 22nd October, 2007 by ‘Regd. AD’ or delivered in the Office of the Committee against an acknowledgment. In addition to these 60, the Committee has also received 3 submissions by ‘Speed Post’, 14 by ‘Regd. Post’ (without acknowledgement) and 58 by ordinary post including ‘Under Postal Certificate’.
The Committee reiterated that the objections and suggestions be sent by Regd. AD or delivered in the office of the Committee against an acknowledgement.
The last date for receipt of suggestions/objections at the address of the Committee is 1700 hours on 31st October, 2007. The Committee will give personal hearing from 29th October, 2007 to 6th November, 2007 on all days including holidays from 1000 hours to 1700 hours at its office {No.30/95, P.S. Kumarasamy Raja (Greenways) Road Chennai 600 028} at Malligai, Chennai. Out of these days, the Committee has earmarked 4th November, 2007 to 6th November, 2007 for the personal hearing of the petitioners in the four court cases mentioned in the order dated 5th October, 2007 of the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India.
All such persons intending to be heard personally, except the petitioners, shall have to produce either acknowledgement issued by the Office of the Committee or the Postal receipt in token of the fact that they have sent their objections/suggestions to the Committee.
Committee of Eminent Persons on Sethu Samudram Shipping Channel Project, Malligai, Chennai.

http://pib.nic.in/release/release.asp?relid=32136

17 October 2007 (Min. of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways Press Note)

The Committee of Eminent Persons constituted by the Government of India on Sethu Samudram Shipping Channel Project has already started functioning at Malligai, No.30/95, P.S. Kumarasamy Raja (Greenways) Road, Chennai 600 028. Eleven objections/suggestions have been received up to 16th October, 2007 by Registered AD/delivered against an acknowledgement.
The Committee has invited objections and suggestions from all concerned including the writ Petitioners in the court cases in the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India having interest in the Sethu Samudram Shipping Channel Project. The Committee will consider all suggestions/proposals/documents after giving them a personal hearing.
It is reiterated that the objections/suggestions have to be submitted either through Registered AD or delivered at the above address against an acknowledgment on all days up to 31st October 2007 from 1000 hours to 1700 hours except on 21st October, 2007.
The Committee will also give personal hearing from 29th October, 2007 to 6th November, 2007 (all days including holidays) at the above address between 1000 hours and 1700 hours. Out of these days, the period from 4th to 6th November, 2007 has been kept for giving personal hearing to the Petitioners, who can come on any of these days as per their convenience. To participate in the hearing, proof of having submitted the objections/suggestions in the form of an acknowledgement of the Committee or Postal receipt have to be produced by all concerned except the Petitioners.
Press Note by Committee of Eminent Persons on Sethu Samudram Shipping Channel Project, Chennai. http://pib.nic.in/release/release.asp?relid=31982

11 October 2007

Sethusamudram project committee meets

From our ANI Correspondent
New Delhi, Oct 11: The committee of eminent persons constituted by the Centre to look into the Sethusamudram Shipping Channel Project held its first meeting here today.

All the members of the committee were present in today’s meeting.
The Government has sought three months time from the Supreme Court to examine the Sethusamudram project.
The Committee has invited objections and suggestions, including from the writ petitioners in the cases in the Supreme Court, on the project.
It will then consider suggestions, proposals and documents after giving them a personal hearing.
The 560 million dollars project that will dredge a channel in a narrow strip of sea between India and Sri Lanka, reducing distances and cutting costs for freight traffic, has been opposed by the conservationists and the Hindu organisations.
Opposing the project, while conservationists and local fishermen say the increased freight traffic will harm marine life and threaten the livelihood of thousands of fishermen in both countries; the Hindu organisations say the project would destroy the mythical Ram Sethu, a 48- kilometre chain of limestone shoals that once linked Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu to Mannar in Sri Lanka.
The ten-member committee constituted to look into the matter is headed by University of Madras Vice-Chancellor Prof. S. Ramachandran, who is also the Chairman of Monitoring Committee on Environmental Impact Issues.
The committee comprises of former Professor of History at the Delhi University Prof. R S Sharma; Aqua Culture Foundation of India President Dr. M. Sakthivel; former Chairman of the Central Pollution Control Board Prof. Dilip K. Biswas; former Director of Zoological Survey of India, Kolkata, Dr. J.R.B. Alfred; Deputy Director of the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur, Dr. S.R. Wate; former Vice-Chancellor of the Bharatidasan University, Tamil Nadu, Prof. P. Jagadeesan; former Vice-Chancellor of the Kakatiya University, Andhra Pradesh, Prof. Y. Vaikuntham; Director of the Deccan College, Pune Dr. K. Paddayya; and Managing Director of the Indian Ports Association, R K Jain.
The committee held detailed deliberation on the matter today.
It has decided to invite objections and suggestions by 5 p.m. on October 31 addressed to Dr. Ambedkar Law University, Post Graduate and Research Development Block, “Poompozhil”, 5, Greenways Road, Chennai – 600 028.
The committee will give a personal hearing from October 29 to November 6 (on all days including holidays).
The period from November 4-6 has been kept for giving personal hearing to the petitioners.
Copyright Dailyindia.com/ANI

http://www.dailyindia.com/show/181783.php/Sethusamudram-project-committee-meets

11 Oct. 2007 (Min. of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways Press Note)

COMMITTEE OF EMINENT PERSONS ON SETHU SAMUDRAM SHIPPING CHANNEL PROJECT MEETS

The Committee of Eminent Persons constituted by the Government of India on Sethu Samudram Shipping Channel Project held its first meeting on 11th October, 2007 in New Delhi in which all the Members of the Committee were present.
The Terms of Reference of the Committee are to invite objections and suggestions from all concerned including the writ Petitioners in the court cases in the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, having interest in the Sethu Samudram Shipping Channel Project and to consider all suggestions/proposals/documents after giving them a personal hearing. The Committee comprises of :-
i) Prof. S. Ramachandran – Chairman of Monitoring Committee on Environmental Impact Issues, of Sethu Samudram Ship Channel Project and Vice-Chancellor of University of Madras – Convenor
ii) Prof. R.S. Sharma – Former Professor of History, Delhi University
iii) Dr. M. Sakthivel – President of Aqua Culture Foundation of India
iv) Prof. Dilip K. Biswas – former Chairman of Central Pollution Control Board, Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India
v) Dr. J.R.B. Alfred – former Director of Zoological Survey of India, Kolkata
vi) Dr. S.R. Wate – Deputy Director of National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur
vii) Prof. P. Jagadeesan – former Vice-Chancellor of Bharatidasan University, Tiruchi, Tamil Nadu
viii) Prof. Y. Vaikuntham – former Vice-Chancellor of Kakatiya University, Andhra Pradesh
ix) Dr. K. Paddayya – Director of Deccan College, Pune
x) Shri R.K. Jain, IAS – Managing Director, Indian Ports Association – Member Secretary
The Committee after detailed deliberation on the matter referred to it, decided to invite objections and suggestions from all concerned including the writ Petitioners so as to reach at the following address of the Committee by 1700 hrs. on 31st October, 2007. Member Secretary, Committee of Eminent Persons on Sethu Samudram Shipping Channel Project The Tamil Nadu Dr. Ambedkar Law University, Post Graduate & Research Development Block, “Poompozhil”, 5, Greenways Road, Chennai – 600 028.
Tel No. : 044-24959005, 044-24959006
The objections/suggestions have to be submitted either through RegisteredAD or delivered at the above address in Chennai on all days upto 31stOctober, 2007 except on 21st October, 2007 from 1000 hrs. to 1700 hrs. The Committee will also give a personal hearing from 29th October, 2007 to 6th November, 2007 (all days including holidays) at the above address tween 1000 hrs. to 1700 hrs. Out of this, the period from 4th to 6th November, 2007 has been kept for giving personal hearing to the Petitioners, who can come on any of these days as per their convenience. To participate in the hearing, proof of having submitted the objections/suggestions in the form of acknowledgement of the Committee or Postal receipt have to be produced by all concerned except the Petitioners.

http://pib.nic.in/release/release.asp?relid=31845

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