Union Finance Ministry questions the need for road

A plan of the National Highways to construct a five-km road in Dhanuskodi, which was devastated by the 1964 cyclonic storm, has hit a road block as the Union Finance Ministry questioned the need for it after a gap of almost five decades.

Dhanuskodi, a strip of land on the eastern end of Rameswaram island, was almost erased from the map in the wake of the December 22 storm.

Since then, it has remained cut off from the pilgrim centre of Rameswaram. When the National Highways took steps to restore its link with the mainland, the move was welcomed by tourists and pilgrims alike.

Dhanuskodi is flanked by the rough waters of the Indian Ocean on one side, the placid Bay of Bengal on the other.

The pilgrimage to Rameswaram is not complete without a visit to Dhanuskodi especially for pilgrims from north India who call it “Aathi Sethu” (arrow head).

Foreign tourists visit the tiny town for its scenic beauty.

In the absence of a road link from Muhuntharayar Chathiram, pilgrims and tourists take a rough ride in the sandy terrain in SUVs and vans.

They are at the mercy of the SUV operators who not only fleece them but make them wait till there are enough people for a trip.

Forced by a spurt in the number of visitors, the National Highways proposed laying a five-km stretch.

Last May, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways gave its approval for the project in its annual plan for 2012-13 with an outlay of Rs.15 crore.

Estimate

The National Highways sent a revised estimate for Rs. 25 crore.

But the Chief Engineer, in his letter dated December 4, 2012 to the Regional Officer in Chennai, questioned whether there was a guarantee that the proposed road would not be subjected to tidal action, resulting in its erosion and the entire expenditure going waste.

Unperturbed, the National Highways approached the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras (IIT-M) and obtained a new design for laying the road, using gabion boxes.

Dr. R. Sundaravadivelu, Professor, Department of Ocean Engineering, IIT-M, suggested that gabion boxes to a height of 2.5 metre be placed on both sides of the road and a geo-textile layer put on the inner side of the boxes to avoid entry of seawater onto the road and erosion by tidal action.

Satisfied with the report, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways modified the estimate from Rs. 25 crore to Rs. 21 crore and sent it up to the Finance Ministry for sanction.

But the latter questioned the need for the road after a gap of 48 years.

The National Highways authorities are preparing to lobby for the project with the help of a Congress MP, who has influence with the Finance Ministry.