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Chidambaram's allegations totally baseless: Jayalalithaa

The following is the statement of the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, issued on March 29, 2005:

Mr. P. Chidambaram, Union Minister of Finance has, as is his wont, on his weekend sojourn in Tamil Nadu, made some allegations against the Government of Tamil Nadu which are totally baseless and not backed up by facts. Instead of providing genuine assistance to Tamil Nadu as the Union Finance Minister, Mr. P. Chidambaram has, in fact, been hindering the flow of assistance from the Centre to the State, as in the recent case of relief to fishermen affected by the tsunami killer waves.

Mr. P. Chidambaram has made a statement that the Government of Tamil Nadu has not furnished the list of people affected and property damaged by the tsunami. How is it that Mr. P. Chidambaram is blissfully unaware of the great number of teams of officials who have examined various proposals of the Government of Tamil Nadu for providing assistance under various development heads for persons affected by the tsunami waves? In all these cases, detailed break-up of number of persons affected, backed up by full lists of persons/families affected, drawn up by District Collectors, have been reported on every occasion. Only if the beneficiaries request a bank loan can the application be forwarded to the bank concerned.

This, the State Government has indicated, would be done on the choice of the beneficiaries. As my Government has been rightly maintaining, there is no response from the fishermen for bank loans for a variety of reasons and this is not the time to coerce them into obtaining a loan, which they are not happy with. It was Mr. P. Chidambaram who caused a major hitch in the flow of funds to the State for the permanent rehabilitation of the fishermen by insisting on certain procedures and worse still bypassing the State Government. Having done all this, undermining the determined efforts of my Government to take up permanent rehabilitation work on a war-footing, Mr. P. Chidambaram is now trying to keep the pot boiling with some more unwarranted statements on relief to the persons affected by the tsunami waves.

My Government has already clearly set out a comprehensive programme for rehabilitation of all sections of affected persons and very recently I have set out the Policy on Housing for those affected in the Legislative Assembly which has been widely welcomed. Perhaps, Mr. Chidambaram is taking these potshots frustrated by the fact that the Government of Tamil Nadu is getting kudos from all quarters for the excellent handling of the relief work following the tsunami tragedy.

Desalination project

In passing, Mr. P. Chidambaram has once again made a statement on the Desalination Project indicating that the State Government has not given a Detailed Project Report in time. Fortunately, he has not once again adverted to the story line that the Centre was willing to give Rs.1,000 crores and the Government of Tamil Nadu had not taken it. This is perhaps because I had nailed this canard in a detailed Press Statement on 3.3.2005. I had made it abundantly clear in that Statement itself that a consultant is undertaking the detailed technical evaluation of the bids received for this project and it would take a minimum of 60 days to complete the evaluation.

I had also clearly pointed out that my Government had addressed the Government of India in December, 2004, to extend financial support to undertake the Desalination Project on a DBOOT basis providing viability gap funding and assistance for the payment support mechanism. When this is the position, it cannot be fathomed as to why Mr. P. Chidambaram continues to make totally incorrect statements relating to the Desalination Project.

Sethusamudram project

Mr. P. Chidambaram has also held forth on the Sethusamudram Project stating that the Government of Tamil Nadu has not extended support for the project and this is the reason for the delay in executing the project. This kind of wild allegation is unbecoming of a responsible Union Minister. Has not Mr. P. Chidambaram read the news reports indicating the serious environmental concerns raised by the Prime Minister's Office on this project? Further, media reports indicate that neither the Ministry of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways, nor the Ministry of Environment and Forests in the Union Government have responded to the reported note of the Prime Minister's Office. When this is the state of confusion relating to the Project in the Union Government and one is left wondering as to who is really in control at the Centre, why is Mr. P. Chidambaram making a vain attempt to shift the blame to the Government of Tamil Nadu?

Environmental concerns

I have personally argued the need for implementing the Sethusamudram Canal Project in my speeches in the Rajya Sabha in 1984 and 1986. My Government has consistently demanded the early implementation of this project. Even in the Memorandum I presented to the Hon'ble Prime Minister on 16.9.2004, I have stressed the need to take up this project early. When this is the history of the efforts taken by my Government for this project, it is quite shocking to see the crude attempt made by Mr. P. Chidambaram to make political capital, alleging delay by the Government of Tamil Nadu on the time being taken to address all environmental concerns relating to this Project. While there are absolutely no two opinions about the stand of the Government of Tamil Nadu that the Sethusamudram Canal Project should be implemented, at the same time it is equally important that all the environmental concerns are addressed properly and due safeguards are provided for after careful study.

It is elementary that in a large project disturbing the seafloor, there has to be complete and careful examination of all aspects which could cause damage to the environment. Only after this detailed examination and after setting out the safeguards to be provided, can the Project be implemented. Instead of addressing all the concerns in a cohesive and cogent manner, all kinds of measures including strong-arming the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board by issue of a contempt of Court notice and a show-cause notice are being resorted to. This is reprehensible. Never have we seen a Government, which should take steps to protect the environment, show such unseemly haste in rushing the project through without even addressing the genuine concerns expressed by fishermen and environmentalists.

Experts committee

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has constituted an Expert Committee to address all the environmental issues relating to the project before it makes recommendations to the State Government on furnishing the No Objection Certificate. The Expert Committee is engaged in this task. Is it proper for Union Ministers including Mr. P. Chidambaram to make irresponsible statements concerning the assessment and evaluation of the environmental risks associated with the Project?

No one can object to such an evaluation as this alone will guarantee the long-term success of the project. Failure to do so could result in serious consequences which cannot even be imagined today. It is to safeguard against such disastrous consequences that a thorough assessment at this stage is a must. Anyone who has any knowledge about project implementation would vouchsafe the fact that embarking on a large project with definite environmental risks is dangerous without a detailed study and effective conclusions on mitigation of the likely environmental impact.

Disastrous consequences

It is most unfortunate that all caution is being thrown to the winds in a cheap attempt to get popularity by Mr. P. Chidambaram and his cohorts merely to project an image as though they have brought this project to fruition. It is not at all necessary for Mr. P. Chidambaram to comment on the role of the Government of Tamil Nadu in this matter, as it is the Prime Minister's Office which has reportedly raised serious environmental issues relating to the Project and has reportedly enjoined both the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to put the clearances on hold until there is a proper evaluation of this specific issue. The Prime Minister's Office has reportedly expressed dissatisfaction with the environment impact assessment and the technical feasibility report prepared by NEERI (National Environmental Engineering Research Institute) which have ignored various aspects, and warned that going ahead with the construction of this Mega Project without collecting information on the above aspects could lead to major economic, technical and human problems in future that could border on a disaster.

The deafening silence by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the Ministry of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways, to this note from the Prime Minister's Office expressing concern over the haste and the inadequacy of the assessment is indeed shocking. Instead of addressing these issues, Mr. P. Chidambaram has taken off on his usual tirade against the Government of Tamil Nadu, totally forgetting that he ought to commit himself to the real progress of the State.

J. Jayalalithaa

Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu

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