The Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project
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Issue Vol. 23.4 Oct-Dec2008 | Date : 03 Feb , 2009

The timing of this article suggests that it is either to invite the Pachauri Panel’s attention to the security aspects; or that the Government decided to go ahead on the pragmatic assumption that given the delays inherent in making up even the existing shortages of manpower and in inducting new platforms, the security task would have to be undertaken from within existing resources. It could therefore be a reiteration of the need to sanction resources sooner rather than later.

From the defence point of view, whatever     alternative alignment that the Pachauri Panel may suggest, the geography of this area is so restricted that it too will remain within range of LTTE malevolents, whose capability for mischief has not diminished since the late Mr Kadirgamar decribed it in 2006. And since the canal will be in Indian territorial waters and under sovereign Indian air space, its defence and security will become a logical responsibility of the Armed Forces either as a Low Intensity Conflict task or as part of the Armed Forces traditional mandate to safeguard national sovereignty from external aggression.

The Admiral’s article ends by exhorting Pachauri’s six-member panel to take a holistic view of the project, which includes security concerns raised by the Director General Coast Guard recently. These concerns have added a new dimension to the already complex discussions that range from inflamed religious beliefs to flawed comparisons with the Suez and Panama canals.

Given the Central Government’s political coalition  compulsions, it would be pragmatic for the Navy and Coast Guard to prepare for taking on this additional commitment within existing resources, (until additional resources are inducted), part of which they have been doing in the Palk Bay since 1990 after the last elements of the IPKF withdrew. It is also timely for air defence aspects to be sorted out between the Air Force and the Naval Air Arm.

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