Marine Economic Zones: alternative to Setu channel

Alternative to Setu channel: Marine Economic Zones

Data sets related to the formation of Marine Economic Zones show in perspective that the marine zone is vital for the development of the economy of Bharatam and as a foreign exchange earner and provider of employment opportunities for the people of Bharatam;

Total quantity of marine products exported during 2006-7 was 6,12,641 m. tonnes

Value: Rs. 8,363.53 crores

About 25% or over Rs. 2,000 crores foreign exchange is earned by exports from five districts north and south of Rama Setu: Nagapattinam, Thiruvarur, Pudukottai, Ramanathapuram, Thuthukudi, Kanyakumari. This Marine Economic Zone supports the livelihood of over 20 lakh people dependent upon sustainable development of these marine products.

Fish landings have increased almost five-fold in the last 40 years since 1963 according to the statistics. If these increased landings are effectively harnessed through Marine Economic Zones along the long coastline of Bharatam, a veritable revolution can be achieved contributing to abhyudayam of coastal people and contribute to the nation’s development.

Marine Economic Zone on either side of Rama Setu coast will, thus, be an effective alternative to the project disaster, the Setu channel project.

Nature magazine in its issue of 6 Sept. 2007 has reported that another tsunami is likely to occur along the sundaplate thrust, a tsunami which will be more devastating than the 26 Dec. 2004 tsunami, putting at risk 6 to 7 crore people along the Bharatam coastline from Bay of Bengal through Palkbay/Gulf of Mannar to the Kerala coast.

It is our responsibility to start preparing for coping with such an unprecended natural disaster that has been warned by the scientists. All projects along the coastline should be subjected to safety review immediately.


This is the follow-up activity proposed for continuing the Rama Setu Raksha Manch movement and focus attention on the livelihood of the people dependent upon the resources of the samudram, the hindumahaasaagaram. This developmental imperative will be an ongoing programme involving all marine people of the nation.

Attached is a paper which was presented in the seminar held in Delhi on protecting Rama Setu on 1-2 Dec. 2007 in the Constitution Club.

Beyond the protection of Rama Setu is the ongoing fight for survival of people depending upon the hindumahasagar (Arabian Sea, Gulf of Mannar/palkbay, Bay of Bengal) for their livelihood. These people live along the long 8,110 km. coastline of Bharatam.

Marine Economic Zones along this Bharatam coast will have to be formulated forthwith with complete involvement of the marine people. Agriculture, textiles and marine products are the lifeline of the nation’s economy. Marine economy has been neglected by all governments. It is time that people start a movement all along the marine economic zones to make a break from this lack of attention and prepare projects for abhyudayam of the marine people.

It is suggested that a seminar be organized involving all fishermens’ organizations and a Akhilabharata Marine peoples’ conference be called in Rameshwaram near Rama Setu to resolve to make the Marine Economic Zones a reality.

Readers are requested to send in their comments, suggestions and proposals by email to and

Rama Setu and livelihood of coastal people

By D. Kuppuramu, Advocate and President, Tamilnadu Bharateeya Meenavar Sangham (Tamilnadu Bharateeya Fishermen’s Federation)

Overview and abstract

A recommendation made, is the constitution of Marine Economic Zones (MEZs) along Gulf of Mannar/ Palkbay as development vehicles for improving the incomes of coastal people and increased creation of nation’s wealth. Such an MEZ can be started in Tamilnadu for the economic development of the people living along coastline and thus contribute to the economic development of Tamilnadu.

Agriculture, textiles and fishing are the three major industries providing for employment opportunities in the nation. Providing for employment to every citizen of the country is a fundamental responsibility of the state by appropriate policies and sustainable development projects.

It is impossible to sustain both the fishing industry and a mid-ocean channel passage in the coastline of Gulf of Mannar and Palkbay.

The Setu mid-ocean channel project is being pursued with scant regard to the lives of the coastal people. The false promises made about alternative employment opportunities are emphasized by the fact that no such alternatives have, in fact, been realized by port projects such as Chennai or Thuthukudi. Such port-related and navigational projects do not employ those who were dependent upon fishing industry.

Pamban gap already exists (together with a cantilever railway bridge) to link Gulf of Mannar and Palkbay. The reports of the project do NOT discuss about this navigable channel being developed further for katamaran and other small vessels to carry container traffic from and to Thuthukudi port.

In the entire documentation related to the Setu mid-ocean Channel project, there is no detailed reference or evaluation related to the coastal people presently employed in the fishing industry and how their livelihood will be impacted. There is only a passing mention about re-tooling a few people in Dhanushkodi to work in the channel monitoring station.

The proposed mid-ocean channel passage will spell the death-knell of the fisheries industry in many regions of Tamilnadu.

The Setu channel project, if implemented, will kill an industry which has the potential to develop the livelihood of coastal people through sustainable marine production and marketing projects. The proposed Setu channel project will not provide enough employment opportunities to compensate for the loss of the existing employment of lakhs of coastal people working in the fishing industry.

Navigation versus fishing through Gulf of Mannar/Palkbay

The Setu mid-ocean channel passage envisages navigation of 3,055 ships per annum through the channel. If such a level of traffic is, in fact, realized, that will spell the death-knell of fishing industry since coastal fishermen will be impeded in their efforts to continue fishing in the narrow straits of Gulf of Mannar/Palkbay. Shubhra Tandon noted in his article of the Business Line (Oct. 15, 2007), citing a spokesperson of an Indian shipping company: “There is no clarity as to whether fishing activities would continue in the area of not, if yes, then shipping cannot happen there. Secondly, for security reasons ships are supposed to sail 200 miles away from the Sri Lankan coast, which the channel does not address.”

Such a mutual exclusivity of fishing and navigation renders the Setu mid-ocean channel project an exercise with utter disdain for the lives of the coastal people.

The oppression of the trawlers killing the self-employed small fishermen communities

Trawlers engaged in Gulf of Mannar/Palkbay are owned by private agencies and deprive the opportunities for increasing the catch of small fishermen communities.

Fishermen communities lack cold-storage facilities and are compelled to immediately sell their fresh catch of aquatic products at the prices dictated by the middle-men employed by private agencies and private exporters. There is NO export agency owned by any group of fishermen.

Fish catch should also be so regulated so as not to overexploit the fish landings. Motorized boats and trawler based fishing in a large scale result in overexploitation and result in degradation of the hatcheries. Sustainable development of fishing industry should be such that production matches the landings and hatching and increased use of small boats should be encouraged.

Financial institutions should be encouraged to provide concessional lending to small boat owners to improve their purchasing power and self-employed status.

Since India has lagged in seafood exports (accounting for only $1 billion in April-December 2005) due to lack of value-addition and stabilization of product quality, special steps have to be initiated through Marine Economic Zones to improve the quality and quantity of the unique products such as black tiger shrimp which is unique to Indian coastal waters.

In addition to the development of traditional s’ankha industry along the coral reefs of Kilakkarai and other 23 islands, there are opportunities for developing pearl culture and sea algae (kadal paasi in Tamil) – both of which can evolve as export-oriented industries of the Marine Economic Zones (MEZs)..

Background: economic indicators of coastal peoples lives

India has a coastline of 8,118 kms of which Tamilnadu coastline is 1,076 kms (approx. 12.5%). Coastline of Ramanathapuram district where the Setuchannel project is being implemented is 241kms. including 135 kms. Of Gulf of Mannar coastline. The total number of active fishermen directly engaged in marine and inland fisheries in Tamilnadu is 4,07,921. The number of coastal people dependent upon fisheries is approx. 20 lakhs in Tamilnadu.

Tamilnadu (2005-6)

Quantity of fish production: (tonnes) 5,44,258

Value (Rs. in crores): 2998.21 crores

Fish and fish product export (adding to the nation’s foreign exchange reserves)

Quantity (tonnes) 72,418 (13.3% of total quantity of fish production)

Value (Rs. in crores) 1995.73 (66.6% of total

value of fish production)

Importance of Gulf of Mannar/Palkbay-Palkstrait in coastal peoples’ lives

It will be seen the bar chart provided in the Annex that only five regions accounted for 59.7% of the total fish production of Tamilnadu during 2005-6:

Ø Nagapattinam, Tiruvarur, Thanjavur 80,900 tonnes,

Ø Pudukkkottai 67,063 tonnes

Ø Ramanathapuram 81,832 tonnes

Ø Thuthukudi 50,190 tonnes

Ø Kanyakumari 44,698 tonnes

Ø Total 3,24,683 tonnes

(Source: Director of Fisheries, Chennai and Director of Marine Products Export Development Authority, Chennai, 2005-06).

The livelihood of the coastal people of these five regions of Tamilnadu are entirely dependent upon the marine resources of Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay/Strait. This is the region of the Indian Ocean where the Setusamudram mid-ocean channel project is sought to be implemented, cutting through Rama Setu.

It will be seen from Table 8.6 included in the Annex that the exports peaked during 2002-03 (Rs. 2507.87 crores) and has dropped steeply to Rs. 1995.73 crorees in 2005-06. This drastic drop in the value of exports has occurred despite the increase in fish product exports during the same periods from 70,147 tonnes to 72,418 tonnes.

This is a shocking situation of exploitation of the coastal people. The drop in export value of Rs. 512.14 crores (that is, 2507.87 minus 1995.73) has occurred despite an increase of 2,271 tonnes (that is 72,418 minues 70,147 tonnes) in production between 2002-3 to 2005-6. These data clearly demonstrate that the market prices have been significantly reduced. The exports are controlled by private corporates in collaboration with multinationals and Governments have not given adequate attention to this issue of pricing being manipulated by the explort conglomerates acting as a cartel.

It will be seen from the graphs in the annex, detailing production trend of 40 years, between 1963 to 2003, the all India marine fish landings increased from about 7 lakh tones in 1963 to 25 lakh tones in 2003. This is an indicative trend of the potential in organizing for a sustainable development of marine products industry in India, including the Tamilnadu-Kerala coastlines, with particular reference to the ocean regions served by the coastline adjacent to Gulf of Mannar and Palkbay.

Oil sardine landings in India increased from about 60,000 tonnes in 1963 to 400,000 tonnes in 2003.

Mackerel (kumla in Tamil; ayilai in Malayalam) landings in India have fluctuated and have increased from 75,000 tonnes in 1963 to only 100,000 tonnes in 2003. Thelandings peaked to 300,000 tonnes in 1989. Mackerel landings used to occur normally in October-December in the region. After the commencement of the dredging in July 2005 for the mid-ocean Setu channel, mackerel production and landings have been reduced drastically in Gulf of Mannar/Palkbay according to reports of the local fishermen. In 2006 and 2007, the production of mackerel has completely stopped.

Penaeid prawn (iraal in Tamil) landings in India increased from about 40,000 tonnes in 1963 to 200,000 tonnes in 2003.

The almost four-fold to five-fold increase in the marine fish landings of oil sardine, and prawns has NOT translated into a four- to five-fold increase the purchasing power of the people along the coastline of the country. This statistic set represents a serious lapse in attention to the concerns impacting the livelihood of the coastal people of the nation, along the long 8,118 kms.coastline and the absence of marine production development projects.

Impoverishment of coastal people by manipulating prices of oil sardine (peccaalai in Tamil; matti in Malayalam) and

During the period from December to April and in the months of July-August, oil sardine landings in India move from the Arabian Sea into the Gulf of Mannar and Palkbay, migrating further upto Bangladesh. The uncaught sardines perish in the Bay of Bengal.

In 2001-2, the price of prawns per kg. earned by a fisherman was upto Rs. 650.

In 2006-7, the price of prawns per kg. earned by a fisherman is only upto Rs.360.

The costs for a fisherman have increased during the same period for the cost of diesel used in fishing vessels from Rs. 10 per litre of diesl to Rs. 35 per litre of diesl. This is a classic example of the impoverishment of the coastal people.

The country does not have a pricing policy related to fish production and marketing, thus contributing to the exploitation of coastal people.

“The present bed of Palk Strait, which separates India from Lanka, consists of Miocene limestone, suggesting that the Jaffna limestone formation is a continuous one, extending from north-western Lanka up to southern India… Both India and Sri Lanka stand in the same continental shelf or platform. The shelf is shallow and does not exceed 70 meters in depth at its maximum. This goes to prove that the floor-bed of the Jaffna peninsula and the 85 islands in the Western sea-shore from the peninsula to Galle are connected with the Miocene lime stone formation with Rameswaran which stretches continuously into Southern India… it is understood that the cherty siliceous nodules in the Miocene limestone found in the sea floor are too soft, because they are yet to develop. Therefore, it is feared that excavating the undeveloped limestone coral reef would bring about catastrophic effect in the future.
+” [The Prehistory of Sri Lanka, by S. U. Deraniyagala].

Destruction of the livelihood of coastal people by the Setu mid-ocean channel project


Srilankan experts’ warnings related to fishing industry and drinking water supply

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 Sri Lanka. “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 collapse of the fishing industry. Among a host of serious problems, one major issue is that the canal is to be dug 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 side and Tuticorin and Rameswaran on the Indian side, which means that the groundwater on both sides of the channel, would be affected… 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.”

Since the Gulf of Mannar/Palkbay have been declared as HISTORIC waters in the June 1974 declaration of Indira Gandhi-Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the logical next step is to make these waters a commonwealth of both the countries. There should be arrangements for free movement of fishermen across the medial line so that Indian fishermen can go to the Srilanka side of the waters for catching fish and for Srilankan fishermen to go the Indian side of the waters for obtaining s’ankha and algae resources.

Any project in these waters should be a joint exercise of both India and Srilanka as equal partners in an Indian Ocean Community.

Constitution of Marine Economic Zones (MEZs)

It is the responsibility of Govt. of India and Govt. of Tamilnadu to come up with developmental projects for the coastal people by enhancing employment opportunities and increasing the incomes of the coastal people by a sustainable development of Marine Economic Zones along the Indian Ocean rim, including to start with India and Srilanka both of which are SAARC member countries.

Projects which can be studied involving both Srilanka and India as maritime nations are:

A railway and road link between Colombo and Madurai; a railway and road link between Jaffna and Nagapattinam via Kodiakkarai (Point Calimere) (thus opening up the entire Railway network of India as a market for expanding trade with Srilanka which will provide for a multiplier effect in economic development of both India and Srilanka). This will lead to economic development opportunities for the coastal districts of Tamilnadu and Kerala.

This indeed is the dream of the National Poet, the late Subrahmanya Bharati who sang: “singala teevinukku oru palam amaippom, setuvai medurutti veedi samaippom.” This is the Tamilian’s dream, the dream of the greatest Tamil poet. That is, let us build a bridge to Srilanka, let us raise the elevation of Rama Setu and create a highway linking Bharatam and Srilanka.

Expanding the container terminals of Kochi and Thuthukudi and development of Rameshwaram, Nagapattinam and Cuddalore as container ports.

Railway and highway links between Thuthukudi and Villupuram.

Pipelines between west and east coasts of India to carry oil and gas products.

There are also opportunities for a magnetic levitation train beyond Rameshwaram in India to Talaimannar in Srilanka along the Rama Setu.

Such projects have the potential to virtually create Marine Economic Zones over the entire coastline of the country. Such a developmental approach will lead to the economic development of Tamil Nadu and other coastal states.

MEZs can be complemented by the development of heritage and eco-tourism along the coastline near Rama Setu. The marine bioreserve near Rama Setu is an eco-treasure with over 3,600 unique aquatic fauna and flora and endangered species such as Sea cow (kadarpacu in Tamil or Dugong). A Marine museum can be created along Rama Setu with submergible boats carrying tourists and students who will be enthralled by the eco-wealth of the placid, serene, sacred waters of the Gulf of Mannar not far from Agniteertham of Rameshwaram where lakhs of people gather on aashaadha amavasya day for samudra snaanam and prayers to their ancestors offering pitrutarpanam. This sacred memory remembered about the heritage of vigrahavan dharmah, Sri Rama will be an abiding and sustaining tribute to our elders.

To start with, MEZs can be developed in the Gulf of Mannar/Palkbay by both India and Srilanka to allay the concerns expressed by the Srilankan experts and to develop Thuthukudi and Colombo container port facilites..

Annex: Data related to fisheries development

(Source: Commissioner of Fisheries, Chennai and Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute)








Joshi for movement on Sethu

NEW DELHI, Dec. 2: Accusing the Congress-led UPA government of undermining Hindu belief and traditions, the BJP Rajya Sabha MP, Dr MM Joshi, today called for launching an Ayodhya-like national movement to “save” the Ram Sethu. 
“There are many proofs for the existence of Ram Sethu. People need to start a mass movement to save the Sethu, like the one for the Ram Temple in Ayodhya,” the senior BJP leader said while delivering the valedictory address at a two-day seminar on “Shri Ram Sethu – History and Politics,” here today.
Mr Joshi flayed the Congress party and its president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, for allegedly showing indifference to Indian beliefs and traditions while going about constructing Sethusamudram canal project over the Ram Sethu, believed to be built by Lord Rama and his monkey followers across ocean to Lanka to liberate his wife from the custody of demon king Ravana. Mr Joshi called for launching a ‘save’ Ram Sethu campaign. Rajya Sabha member Gopal Vyas, retired IPS officer P C Dogra and social activist Rajendra Pankaj were among those who took part in the seminar

Declare Ram Setu a national heritage: Ashok Singhal
1 Dec 2007, 1849 hrs ISTclip_image017,clip_image018PTI
SMS NEWS to 58888 for latest updates

NEW DELHI: Claiming that there was scientific proof on the existence of Ram Setu, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, on Saturday, demanded national heritage status for the bridge.
“There are many scientific proofs on the existence of Ram Setu. It should be declared a national heritage,” VHP President Ashok Singhal said while inaugurating a two-day seminar here on “Shriram Setu – History and Politics”.
Criticising the Centre for its “pro-West” policies, he said “the UPA government is trying to divide us like the Britishers have done in the past”.
Accusing the Centre of not considering any of the five alternative routes for the controversial Setusamudram canal project, Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy said “there are five routes that would not require dismantling the Ram Setu. Why doesn’t the UPA consider them?”
Captain H Balakrishnan, a Naval environmentalist, said that implementation of the project would not result in profit as depicted by the government.
He, however, contradicted Swamy’s contention, saying that none of the five alternative routes were viable.
Former chairman of Tuticorin Port Trust, V Sundaram, said that the move to dismantle the Setu was “a deliberate assault on Hindus and their historical culture”.
“Our uncultural minister has no information on the historical background of Ram Setu,” he said, criticising Culture Minister Ambika Soni.
The two-day seminar will end on Sunday with a valedictory address by former Union Minister Murli Manohar Joshi.

A resolution was adopted by the Seminar on 2 December 2007 that Marine Economic Zones will be an effective alternative to the project disaster called Setu channel project.



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