Ocean and environment scientists recommend scrapping Setu channel project

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CISSA

‘MBC 27, Museum Bains Compund

Kowdiar P.O., Trivandrum – 695 003

KERALA

Ph: 0471 2722151

http://www.cissa.co.in, mail@cissa.co.in, cissaindia@gmail.com

29 October 2007

To

Member Secretary

Committee of Eminent Persons on Sethu Samudram Shipping Canal Project,

Malligai, No.30/95,

P.S.Kumarasamy Raja (Greenways) Road,

Chennai-600 028.

Ph: 044 24959005, 24959006

Dear Sir,

Sub: Recommendations on Sethu Samudram Shipping Canal Project –forwarding- reg.

We wish to place before the Committee the recommendations of a cross section of academic and scientific community of Kerala, on the Sethu Samudram Shipping Canal Project, consolidated through two seminars organized by Centre for Innovation in Science and Social Action (CISSA).

The first such meeting took place at the University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram on 26th April 2007.This was inaugurated by Prof. (Dr.) M.K. Ramachandran Nair, Vice Chancellor of University of Kerala and attended by the Professors and Staff of the various departments. In addition, scientists from various centers also took part. The Vice Chancellor stressed the need for detailed environmental impact studies before implementing such a mega project and requested the scientific community to play a more active role.

The second meting was organized at the School of Ocean Science and Technology, Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT) on 18th October 2007 and was inaugurated by Prof. (Dr.) E.P. Yasodharan Chairman, Kearala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment. In his inaugural address the Chairman said that the cost benefits of the project does not tally with the projected economic benefits. Besides, there is also a need to carry out detailed modeling studies for assessing the impacts of the proposed channel on the Kerala coast.

Dr. C.S.P. Iyer, Former Dierctor, Centre for Marine Analytical Reference & Standards, Dr. C.P. Rajendran, Centre for Earth Science Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, Prof. G.M. Nair, Professor & Head of the Department of Botany, University of Kerala, Dr. A. Biju Kumar, Dept. of Aquatic Biology and Fisheries, University of Kerala, Prof. N.R. Menon, Emeritus Professor, CUSAT, Prof. (Dr.). K.T. Damodaran, Director, School of Ocean Science & Technology, CUSAT, Prof. P. Natarajan, Rajiv Gandhi Chair Professor, CUSAT and many other academic and scientific persons assembled pointed out the lacuna in the various scientific aspects of the project. It was also unanimously decided to put before the Committee of Eminent Persons, the recommendations. These are summarized below.

The EIA studies and TFR on the basis of which clearance has been given for the project have not taken into account the following aspects. This is the first time in the world that a channel is being planned in a mid ocean. There is no previous experience for guidance. It is not correct to make comparisons with Suez and Panama canals. Unlike these land- based canals, the proposed channel would be a part of an open body, subject to forces of requent and unpredictable storms, cyclones, Tsunamis and other natural hazards.

  1. The Palk Bay is an area of intense geotectonic and cyclonic activities. The GSI has classified it as zone II. Between 1891 and 2001, 64 cyclones have hit the Tamilnadu coast, out of which 36 were severe. In December 1964, one of those cyclones even washed away the Pampan Bridge.
  2. At present, Adam’s bridge acts as a breakwater. Once the channel is executed cutting through the bridge, modeling studies have shown that the high energy waves of Tsunami coming from the east of India would flow through the channel in a north to south direction and also get magnified to large amplitudes by Tsunamic waves coming around Sri Lanka and flowing south to north. The destruction to the south-eastern Tamilnadu and to Kerala would be unimaginable. Though NEERI could not have foreseen the Tsunami, which hit the Indian coast on 26th December 2004, there was a need to have a reassessment of EIA, once the event had occurred. Although Tsunamis are short lived, damage caused by their impact is vast and longstanding. Proper modeling studies should be done to study the impacts of the project in Kerala coast.
  3. The Palk Bay is an area of high sedimentation. Low wave action and protection from southerly waves encourages deposition of transported material into the Bay. No recent data has been collected on extend of sedimentation in the Bay. Even in the earlier literature, there have been no attempts to understand the sediment contribution from cyclonic storms from Bay of Bengal or from rivers flowing into the Bay from Sri Lanka. The SCL modeling study mentioned a total quantity of 2 million tons of sediment deposition, parallel to the channel, during the monsoon. With the implementation of the project, there would be a two-fold increase in current velocities along the dredged channel. All these factors have a direct bearing on the quantum of maintenance dredging and its periodicity. More important are the integrity of the channel itself and the safety to the ship traffic, due to sedimentation.
  4. The Gulf of Mannar (GOM) Marine Biosphere Reserve has been identified as one of the hotspots of marine biodiversity, in fact, one of the most important biodiversity reserves of the world. Major coral formations occur in this region. Nearly 3,600 species of flora and fauna including the rare ones as sea cow, seahorses etc. exist here. Though it is mentioned in the EIA that the channel will not affect the bioreserve, it is not supported by with the any data. The impact due to dredging and the oil spill caused by the ship traffic on the biota has not been documented/studied in the EIA. Long-term impacts of the project on the rich biodiversity of the region should be studied in detail. Neither there is mention on impacts on species included in various schedules of Wildlife (Protection) Act living abundantly in the Reserve.
  5. The proper location for the disposal of dredged material has not been evaluated. The total quantity of dredged material as per present estimates is around 82 million cubic meters – 48 million from Adam’s bridge area and 34 million from Palk bay sector. The present plan is to dump the former in GOM and the latter in Bay of Bengal. Dumping these huge quantities of material in this highly turbulent area will cause turbidity and also submerge the large sea bottom community. This will have a long ecological impact. Similarly change of currents, once the channel is a reality would cause changes in temperature, salinity, nutrients etc. This would affect the ecosystem.
  6. A major aim of the proposed project is to save ship time, fuel, transport costs and to make it attractive. This is not supported by facts and figures. Independent, realistic estimate have shown that the savings in time is insignificant for ships coming to east coast of India from Europe and Africa; and therefore they are unlikely to use it. Moreover, due to economical reasons the bulk carriers today are of the order of 50,000 DWT and above. These ships will not be able to use the channel with the present designed draught of 10.8 meters. This, along with increasing interest rates and the resultant uncertainty of using the cannel, will make the project uneconomical.
  7. In the light of the above, it is recommended that the project should be implemented only after detailed Environment Impact Assessment, involving all the national research agencies working in the field, and after proper public hearing. Rapid Environment Impact Assessment is impractical in complex marine ecosystem for evaluating the feasibility of the project. A multilevel approach involving NGOs and independent agencies is required to monitor the marine ecosystem and to evaluate the risk assessment. The stability of the bridge should also be frequently monitored by remote sensing. Economic evaluation of the project should be done with the assistance of agencies competent in the field.

Thanking you,

Yours faithfully,

Dr. C.S.P. Iyer Dr. C. Suresh Kumar

(Chairman of Seminar Series) (General Secretary, CISSA)

Enclosures:

  1. Brochures of the seminars organized
  2. Press cuttings of the seminars
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