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Bridge to Lanka runs into Jaya wall

Chennai, July 24: The Tamil Nadu chief minister today wrote to the Prime Minister to oppose a proposed land bridge connecting India with Sri Lanka.

Jayalalithaa urged Atal Bihari Vajpayee to cancel the project at its inception since it posed a threat to national security.

The chief minister said given the track record of the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the “horrendous gun culture” they had introduced in Tamil Nadu in the late 1980s, “it would be premature, unwise and inadvisable to contemplate any land bridge…”.

Jayalalithaa said in her letter: “I am totally against this concept. This cannot be treated lightly as an economic initiative processed by the Planning Commission; this is a crucial matter of national security and has to be treated as such.”

The chief minister said the issue could not be viewed merely as economic cooperation between the two countries. It is a “vital issue concerning the security of Tamil Nadu and India”, she added.

Jayalalithaa referred to a decision taken at inter-ministerial level in Delhi to seek the state government’s views on starting a feasibility study on the project.

The move to conduct such a study, under the Planning Commission’s guidance, follows a meeting last month between Vajpayee and his Lankan counterpart, Ranil Wickremesinghe.

“This proposal need not be proceeded with, as in my view, it jeopardises national security”, though the joint statement of the Prime Ministers said they would consider if the project is feasible, the chief minister said.

Jayalalithaa today inaugurated the Chennai centre of Xansa, an international IT company, and rushed to the house of Speaker K. Kalimuthu to condole the death of his wife, Nirmala, who died late last night.

Amid her busy schedule, the chief minister had the time to write two more letters to the Centre, including another missive to Vajpayee.

In her second letter to the Prime Minister, Jayalalithaa spoke about the repeated attacks by the Sri Lankan navy on Tamil Nadu fishermen. These attacks take place around Katchatheevu island in Palk Bay, where both sides dispute the other’s fishing area.

The chief minister said the best solution to the fishermen’s woes was to “get the island of Katchatheevu and the adjacent sea on lease in perpetuity” solely for fishing, drying of nets and pilgrimage.

This way, Sri Lanka’s sovereignty over the island would be upheld and the fishermen could carry on their activity unhindered.

She said India’s May 1974 agreement with Bangladesh on Tin Bigha could serve as a precedent. Under that agreement, Bangladeshis use the area as a result of a lease in perpetuity, though sovereignty rests with India.

If Sri Lanka agreed to this model, the governments could work out the details, the chief minister said.

In another letter, to agriculture minister Rajnath Singh, Jayalalithaa urged the Centre to expedite its Rs 5.75 crore assistance for implementing safety measures for Tamil Nadu fishermen.

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