The Supreme Court on Monday granted two months to the Centre to spell out its stand on the expert committee’s report on alternative alignment to the Sethusamudram Ship Channel Project without cutting across Adam’s bridge or Ramar Sethu.

A three-Judge Bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice R.V. Raveendran and Justice J.M. Panchal was not impressed by the Centre’s submission that it would need another 18 months time to conduct the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) study for the alternative alignment 4A suggested by the Supreme Court when it reserved the verdict on July 30, 2008.

The Bench was hearing an application filed by Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy for a direction to the Centre to scrap the Project citing the adverse report submitted by the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO). Dr.Swamy said since the Centre had clearly stated it would take another 18 months for conducting the EIA study, the project should be scrapped.

Appearing for the Centre, Additional Solicitor General Harin Raval said that the preliminary report of the NIO could not be taken as final report and was not binding on the expert committee headed by environmentalist R.K. Pachauri.

The ASG read out the affidavit, filed by the Ministry of Shipping, which said the expert committee in its November 10 meeting had discussed the inputs provided by the NIO and further nominated it for conducting the EIA in 18 months.

The Centre said, “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 the channel.”

When the ASG said no EIA had been conducted so far, the CJI said “when we said alternative alignment 4A without damaging Ramar Sethu, naturally EIA has to be done for that route also.” The ASG said that the Pachauri committee felt that the inputs given by the NIO were insufficient for analysing the data and to give its recommendations and wanted EIA to be done.

Justice Raveendran told the ASG that the court had been waiting for over 16 months for the report of the expert committee after “we reserved orders.”

He said “We were informed that the expert committee will make an exhaustive study. That is why we did not incorporate it in the order. Did you talk to the Committee? Tell us how much time you will take to place the report. You must have discussed with the Committee.”

The ASG said he was not in touch with the Committee but agreed to get the information. He said “I will ask the government to get in touch with the Committee and whether it can come out with an interim report.” The Bench posted the matter for further hearing on February 23, 2010.