Who benefits from Setu project?

Who benefits from the Setu project? (Dinamani, 27 Nov. 2007)

TSS Mani

Last Sept. 18, 2007 there was an article by Ramalakshmi titled, ‘Sea channel project is obstructed because of communal obstruction’. That article ended with a prognosis: that a struggle for lives of fishermen and for saving environment has been changed and stamped with communalism. The Environmental Impact Analysis reports show how the environment will be devastated by this project:

The Bay of Bengal-Gulf of Mannar region is full of natural soft and hard clay.. North and South of Dhanushkodi are sands. That is why, this project was considered NOT feasible over 140 years ago and hence the project was abandoned. If the channel is made by dredging, every year dredging will have o be done. The costs are incalculable.

The van island near Thuthukudi is 6 kms. away from Rama Setu. The Wild Life Act states that there should be no project in the entire area of 25 kms. from the National Marine Park. UNESCO declared the Gulf of Mannar region as National Marine Park, Protected Bioreserve. This project has been designed in violation of these environmental laws.

  • Gulf of Mannar is already filled with heavy minerals and polluted with oils. If the channel project comes up there, the environment will be further devastated.
  • The breeding grounds of many species such as ocean fan, ocean foam (cotton), pearl, s’ankha (turbinella pyrum), will be destroyed.
  • There are over 600 species of fishes. Of these 200 species are of commercial importance. If these species are destroyed, the incomes of the coastal people and rights to livelihood of the coastal people will be taken away.
  • Between 1992 and 1996, the fish production increased four-fold from 55,000 tonnes to 2,00,000 tonnes. The channel project will adversely impact this marine wealth.
  • During South-West monsoon, aquatic fauna move from Gulf of Mannar into Palk Straits. In other seasons, they reverse the direction of migration. They go through Pamban gap and Arumunai. By digging a channel, migration of these aquatic species will be obstructed.
  • When deepened by dredging, the ocean flora and fauna species will be destroyed.
  • The endangered and rare species called Sea cow (Dugong), migrate with change of seasons. The late Professor of Humanities of Madras University, Sudarshan had worned that the Sea Cow, as a specie, will disappear.
  • The head of Tamilnadu Science Academy, late Prof. Sudarshan had, in a scientific review, had, in 2004 itself, noted that Setu channel project will destroy environment and right to life of fisherfolk.

· During the construction period and during the implementation period of the Setu channel project, polluting effluents, oilspills from the ships will mix with the ocean water flows and continuously destroy the environment.

· Because of the traffic of ships, pollutants and species alien to the ocean, will travel from Bay of Bengal into the Indian Ocean in Gulf of Mannar, there is enhanced danger for devastation of the living aquatic resources.

· Gulf of Mannar which is the life-giving repository for many aquatic resources, the naturally endowed enrironment, the exquisite and unique resources and wild life species will be endangered.

· There are increased dangers of ships colliding traversing the narrow channel proposed. The oilspills during such collisions will devastate the flora and fauna of the aquatic zone.

· In the USA, between 1990 and 1999 over 50,000 oilspills have occurred, resulting in the depletion of fish and other aquatic wealth of their seas.

· Coral rocks are unique to Gulf of Mannar. The islands where these coral rocks are found are between Rameshwaram and Thuthukudi.. Oilspills will destroy these coral reefs.

· There are many sea turtles. The very dredging in the region will kill these turtles.

· Those supporting the Setu channel project do not seem to be concerned with the impact on the ocean current flows caused by the dredging and deepening of a channel.

· The 21 islands between Thuthuki and Rameshwaram have saved these two towns from the devastating tsunami. Such islands will be eroded by this project and are the islands themselves are likely to be destroyed.

· Based on an UN investigation, 13 places were selected as most important Marine Bioreserves which need to be protected. In that selection by UNESCO, three regions were determined as the most important. They are: Nandadevi, Nilagiri and Gulf of Mannar. A huge fund was created to protect this Gulf of Mannar bioreserve. They have also informed Govt. of India that their efforts at protecting the bioreserve will be rendered infructuous by the proposed channel project.

· Govt. of India calls this the Suez Canal of the East. They argue that upto 24 hours in navigation time will be saved for navigation between Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal. Marine experts, economists call this a mythical argument.

· Panama and Suez are land-based canals. Setu channel is being dug in the mid-ocean. Panama and Suez canals allow navigation for ships upto 150,000 dwt. (Dead weight tones). But, Setu channel will allow ships of upto only 30,000 dwt.

The investment in the Setu channel will be of the order of Rs. 2600 crores to Rs. 3500 crores. So far, Rs. 300 crores have been expended.

An economist called Jacob John finds, based on the detailed project report, that this project is not economical and has a low internal rate of return. In an article published in the Economic and Political Weekly (2 July 2007), he has proved that the arguments of the proponents of the project are wrong. No ship traveling from the west coast of India to the east coast of India will benefit from navigating through the channel. The pilot ship will take about 2 hours to regulate entry and exit of any ship into and out of the channel. A toll charge (pilotage) will be levied for such navigation. This will increase the cost of navigation for a ship. If there is a saving in 22 hours of navigation time for ships starting from Thuthukudi, the saving in time for ships starting from Europe will be only 8 hours. So, the channel will not be of any significant advantage for foreign ships. The capital investment cannot be recovered and the project will be incurring losses.

(The author of the article is an investigator for protecting Environmental and Human Rights issues).





Sunday Times, Colombo, May 20, 2007

Sethusamudram project: Verdict of experts handed over to Cabinet

The report of an expert group set up by the Government to study the implications of the Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project (SSCP), was handed over to the Cabinet last Wednesday.

The inter-ministerial committee which appointed the expert group will now study the report and decide on how best to address Sri lanka’s concern regarding the project, Science and Technology Minister Tisssa Vitarana who is a member of the ministerial committee said.

The expert committee headed by the Secretary to the Ministry of Education Ariyaratna Hewage handed over its report to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs late last month and it was presented to Cabinet on Wednesday.

The expert committee consisted of people drawn from various areas relating to marine science as well as a representative of the Sri Lanka Navy. One of the main concerns of the committee was the adverse environment impact the project could have on Sri lanka.

The Sethusamuduram project involved linking the Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar to the east coast of India by creating a shipping canal through Rameswaram Island, providing a continuous navigable sea route around theIndian peninsula within India’s territorial waters.

The ministerial committee headed by the Foreign Minister includes theMinisters of Environment and Natural resources, Ports and Aviation, Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Defence and Science and Technology.

http://www.sundaytimes . lk /070520/News/nws11.html

*Controversial Sethusamudram canal dredging project**

**Lankan** experts caution against eco disasters *

*By Ravi Ladduwahetty *


An eminent 34- member advisory group of Sri Lankan professionals have cautioned that the Sethusamudram canal dredging project could have disastrous environment impacts, particularly, maritime environment, for SriLanka.

What is most disconcerting is the absence of any response from the Indian Government to the Lankan concerns. The Group, after a year’s study, submitted their report to Foreign Secretary Dr. Palitha Kohona, earlier this month.The Experts Group comprised Secretary, Education Ministry Ariyaratne Hewage  Chairman, Peradeniya University Professor of Geography Shantha Hennayake -Deputy Chairman, Special Advisor, Technical Planning & Development,SriLanka Ports Authority, Prasanna Weerasinghe and Systems Advisor, Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project (SSCP), Tikiri Jayatilleke.

The Advisory Group was supported by sub cmmittees from the Ministry ofForeign Affairs headed by Asistant Director Sugeesawara Gunatunga, onhydrodynamic modeling headed by Moratuwa University’s Prof of Coastal Engineering Samantha Hettiarachchi, on Environmental Measures forSustainability headed by the Director, Institute of Technological Studies,Dr Aziz Mubarak, including IUCN Ecologist Dr. Channa Bambaradeniya and Head of Oceanography, NARA, K. Arulananthan, on Fsheries Resources & Livelihood,headed by Head of Marine Biological Resources, NARA, Dr Champa Amarasiri andon Navigational Emergencies headed by Commander Y.N. Jayaratne, Sri Lanka Navy.

The primary concern for Sri Lanka is that the initial dredging, the infinitemaintenance dredging and subsequent shipping through the channel, could have ngative impacts on Sri Lanka’s maritime and environment resources, sources in the Advisory Group told The Nation yesterday.

Another major Sri Lankan concern which also relates to environmentresources, is that the Indian studies have not taken into account the singleenvironment impact on the Sri Lankan side of the international boundary, they said.

The Advisory Group is of the view that, despite the SSCP being located onlyone mile away from the Indian side of the maritime boundary, the impact is nlikely to remain only on the Indian side and that, Sri Lanka’s concerns have become even more significant, in the light of insufficient attention pid to minimise the environmental aspects on the Lankan side of the boundary.

The Advisory Group has also noted that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) carried out by India is inadequate for a number of reasons.

The Nation in its edition of January 7, 2007, exclusively reported that,despite the Indian assertion (Commercial Counsellor, Indian High Commission, Colombo, Sanjay Sudhir refers) that it has shared the Ahamedabad basedIndian National Environment & Ecological Research Institute (NEERI) reportwith Sri Lanka, is insufficient justification to prove that there will be no adverse impact on the environment. Simply because, the NEERI report by  itself, was flawed and was sufficient legal justification to put the entire

NEERI repot into scientific question.

For example, the NEERI report is yet to explain the sedimentation issue, silting possibilities and underwater ocean currents, when the canal is constructed.

According to Sudharshan Rodriguez, a Chennai based conservation analyst, theEIA report furnished by NEERI, has used secondary data going back to 1976.

“Hence, how can a project, which will pass through a biological hot spot, with so many likely impacts, be assessed on the basis of secondary data?” is the next most logical question.

The Convenor, Indian Coastal Action Network, Ossie Fernandez has alleged that the NEERI EIA report is also a re-hash of the preliminary report andthat, many activists and professionals are querying the data sources, including the bio diversity readings.

Furthermore, there would be increased turbidity, which has never been studied by NEERI, which has neither studied the possibility of a tsunamithrough the canal water flow, due to the deep water channel linking the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal.

The United Nations Law of the Sea mandates that neighbouring States need to be consulted and sufficient safeguards and guarantees provided.

Fishery resources

There is also concern of the lack of concern on the Indian side, of the unique, biologically rich resource areas linking two Marine Eco systems in the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Bay. Unless accurate forecasts are made ofthe mitigation effects, it could eventually destroy this fragile marine eco system. This is all the more significant in the light of the Northern and North western communities in Sri Lanka being heavily dependent on thefisheries resources of this area.

The concerns that Sri Lanka has expressed are protecting the endangered species, protecting the fisheries resources, the coastal and maritime eco diversity system, integrity of the eco system in the seas around the islandand immediate and long-term ecological stability.

According to research done in Jaffna, by Sri Lanka born Monash University’s Professor of Systems Ecology and UNDP Consultant Prof. Ranil Senanayake,fresh water fish such as Dandiya (Rasbora Daniconius), Tittaya(Amblypharygnodon Melenittus) and Amblypharygnodon Melenittus, migrate down towards underground caverns and chambers, during dry weather and surfacewhen it rains. This also demonstrates the existence of massive underground freshwater caves off Jaffna, with which the salt water of the Palk Straits would mix, if the dredging continues.

This is a shallow area which is highly productive, biologically. As a consequence to the dredging, rare species of mammals, dugongs and fish and invertebrates such as the guitar shark and cone shells would become extinct.

One cone shell (Conus Zonatus and Conus Gloria Maris) is worth around US$3,500 apiece.

Dredging will also reduce the photosynthetic rate, resulting in the collapseof the fishing industry.

Ecological and archaeological concerns

Among a host of serious problems, one major issue is that the canal is to bedug through vesicular limestone, which is a formation of limestone,consequent to the myocene sea encroaching upon parts of Northern Sri Lanka and Southern India. This entails Mannar and Jaffna on the Sri Lankan sideand Tuticorin and Rameswaran on the Indian side, which means that thegroundwater on both sides of the channel, would be affected.

It is also salient that no maritime archaeology has been conducted on thissite. Scientific evidence, in a paper presented by Prof. Senanayake,indicates that 13,000-years ago, the area around the Kalpitiya lagoon, up to Mannar, was forested. Even today, stumps of old trees are found underwater.

There are innumerable stories in Sinhala history, regarding noblemen androyalty living underwater.

Navigational Emergencies

Sri Lanka has proposed that a plan to ensure vessels that cause pollutionand oil spillage are identified and necessary compensation mechanisms put inplace, is established. Sri Lanka should, invariably, be involved in the preparation of contingency plans for oil spills, including modalities towork out the cost of marine pollution and other navigational emergencies and how they be met.


Sri Lanka has also proposed the sharing of information on existing studies and collaboration on further studies and assessments and the setting up of a common database. Also that a Joint Environment Management Plan for impact assessment and monitoring of the project area be established.

Both Sri Lanka and India will be tremendously benefited if the recommendations are implemented to minimize the adverse environmentalimpacts of the SSCP, the Advisory Group has pointed out.



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