"No international legal action on SSCP project"- Kadirgamar

[TamilNet, Friday, 08 July 2005, 10:41 GMT]
Sri Lankan government has rejected a suggestion to take up the controversial Sethusamudram Canal Project (SSCP) to the International Court of Justice. "With regard to the reference made by a parliamentarian to possible international legal action, it must be said that at this point it is some what premature and remains in the realm of possibility. This is so because the Indian authorities at the highest level have indicated that they will co-operate with us and we hope they would agree to joint monitoring and assessment of any adverse implications,"said Mr.Lakshman Kadirgamar, Foreign Minister in a seven-page statement on the SSCP in parliament Thursday evening, parliamentary sources said.

Mr.Lakshman Kadirgamar said so in reply to a question by Venerable Athuraliya Ratana Thera that the government should take up SSCP to the international court of justice.

Excerpts from the statement follow: -

The GOSL has for a long time been inviting the Indian government's attention to SSCP's implications for Sri Lanka. Our concerns were conveyed at various levels. The discussions were at the level of the President of Sri Lanka and the Prime Minister of Indian, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the senior officials of the two countries, at the Indo-Sri Lanka Joint Commission and at the Foreign Secretary consultations. Since the Government of India has now chosen to implement the Project on the Indian side of the Indo-Sri Lanka maritime boundary, no prior approval was sought or granted for the Project. However on the part of GOSL we have raised our concerns relating to SSCP's likely trans-frontier impact on Sri Lanka especially in environment and livelihood areas.

The GOSL has now requested the Indian government to schedule the next Expert Level meeting to discuss these concerns and reach a common understanding on measures to be taken to monitor and mitigate any adverse impacts.

Indian Prime Minister himself has stated that India would be ready to consider changes if it was found that the Project would have adverse environment and other implications for Sri Lanka or India.

It must also be said that in any such situation as the SSCP Project, the normal course of action between friendly countries would be to consult and co-operate in order to address common concerns and trans-boundary effects. We can also use these types of projects not as a hindrance or threat to each other but as an opportunity for joint activity, which could be economically beneficial to both countries. This of course has to be done without damaging the environment or jeopardising the livelihood of the ordinary people like the fisher folk on both sides of the maritime divide.

I am of course duty bound to the assure the House that Sri Lanka will take all the necessary steps to safeguard the well-being and the interests of our people and our country. We would naturally do this in a calibrated and graduated manner opting first for a co-operative and consultative approach. At the moment we are engaged in that exercise. We will consider further action thereafter if and when necessary.

This is quite a constructive understanding between the two countries on a very complex issue, which I would say is a hotly debated Project in both countries. You would have seen that a few days ago Tamilnadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha herself raised a number of concerns with regard to the Project. A study complied by an Expert Committee appointed by the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board has reportedly highlighted specific shortcomings in the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) Report. So have many other Indian and Sri Lankan people, civil society organizations and independent experts. We must therefore address these in a manner commensurate with excellent bilateral relations we have between India and Sri Lanka on the one hand and the economic and environmental interests of our countries and the peoples on the other hand. I have no reason to doubt that the relevant authorities in our to countries will be able to proceed on this matter with due diligence and care.

The GOSL is committed to continue the process of consultations with the Indian government to ensure that our concerns are addressed and any negative effects mitigated. The Gulf of Mannar and Palk Straits area is a shared biosphere for both India and Sri Lanka. Its development and protection of its sensitive marine life should be carried our jointly and together. Should the canal be determined to pose adverse effects to Sri Lanka, the government will explore appropriate measures and take all necessary steps to safeguard our interests".


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