Tamils - a Nation without a State
தமிழ் அகம் - ஓர் உணர்வா, அல்லது இடமா?
Tamil Nadu - தமிழ் நாடு
- an estimated 65 million Tamils live in Tamil Nadu -
Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project
Manitham urges investigation by 'Independent International Experts'
Ref : SSCP 17 September 2004
"Construct a road by raising Sethu"
Our very familiar and India's freedom Tamil Lyric writer
Maha Kavi (Great Poet) Bharathi wrote in one of his famous poems
'Sindhu Nadhien Isai'. However we do not wish either to analyze or
discuss whether Bharathi's imagination of the Sethu Road Project was
recorded in poetical lines with or without taking into consideration
the environmental aspects.
The intention of here is to bring to your kind notice matters
connected with the proposed project of the Sethusamudram Ship Canal
Project [SSCP] of the Union Government of India.
A news item that appeared on 'The Hindu', dated 10-07-2004, reported
that Union Shipping Minister Thiru. T.R.Baalu will ensure that due
precautionary measures were taken and there will be no damage to the
Gulf of Mannar [GOM]'s biosphere while implementing the 144 year
We, Manitham [
http://www.tamilinfoservice.com/manitham ], working for
promoting human rights and protecting environment, feel that this is
a mega project and want to ascertain whether in constructing the
canal there would be any geological, oceanographic and environmental
changes, as well as any land subsidence. Therefore, we decided to
fully explore independently, the environmental impact due to SSCP.
Because of the urgency we decided to submit Interim Report for your
consideration what we have already received so far and assure you to
furnish whatever relevant materials that we receive in future, in
our Final Report.
SSCP : The Background
SSCP is a 144 year dream of Tamils. Commander A D Taylor from Indian
Marine planned this SSCP project in the year 1860. In 1952 Sir A
Ramasamy [Mudaliar] submitted a proposal and major feasibility
As per the present plan, the total length of SSCP would be about 260
km - about 120 km from Tuticorin Port to Adam's Bridge (in Gulf of
Mannar), and about 140 km north of Rameswaram from Adam's Bridge to
Bay of Bengal channel (in Palk Bay). Overall GOM and Palk Strait
[PS] cover an area of 10,500 kms. The canal is being investigated
for different drafts (for 9.15 m, 10.7 m and 12.8 m). In general,
the canal will have a depth of 12 metres enabling 10,000 to 12,000
GRT vessels to pass through. The Government of India is proposing to
dredge a width of 300 meter through 44 nautical miles long stretch.
It is estimated that 32.5 million cubic meter sand will be dredged
in the Adam's bridge area and around 52 million cubic meters in Palk
Gulf of Mannar [GOM] : The Gulf of Mannar [GOM] falls in the
Indo-Pacific region, considered to be one of world's richest marine
biological resources. The Gulf has been chosen as a biosphere
reserve primarily because of its biological and ecological
uniqueness. The region has a distinctive socio-economic and cultural
profile shaped by its geography. It has an ancient maritime history
and was famous for the production of pearls. Pearl has been an
important item of our trade with the Roman Empire as early as the
first century A.D., while Rameswaram, with its links in legend to
the Ramayana, has been an important pilgrim centre. The region has
been and continues to be famous for its production of chank (Indian
conch). The GOM is famous for its chanks, although irrational chank
fishing has severely depleted the stock. In addition, the biosphere
reserve in the area has 17 different mangrove species. The GOM thus
constitutes a live scientific laboratory of national and
international value. It has 3,600 species of plants and animals that
make it India's biologically richest coastal region. It is, of
course, specially known for its corals, of which there are 117
species belonging to 37 genera.
The GOM is a chain of shoal, called Adam's Bridge.
It is an inlet of the Indian Ocean, between South Eastern India and
Western Sri Lanka. The GOM is 130 km to 275 km wide and 160 km long.
During high tide the seawater would raise to more than 1.2 meters
above the sea level. Full of beach ridges, the GOM can be grouped
into: (i) Beach ridges south of Vaigai River; (ii) Beach ridges
between Kotangudi River and Palar River; (iii) Beach ridges between
Palar River and Gundar River system; (iv) Beach ridges between
Gundar River and Vaippar River; and (v) Beach ridges south of
The total water logged land has been calculated to be 5.96 km2.
Eight serious of Strand Lines can also be observed, apart from the
Sea Cliff and Caves.
Adam's Bridge: Adam's Bridge is a chain of Shoal, nearly seven in
all, is 30 km long. Sir Emerson Tennet in his book 'Ceylon' writes -
" The barrier known as Adam's Bridge which
obstructs the navigation in the canal between Ceylon and Ramad,
consists of several parallel ledges of conglomerate and sand
dunes, hard at the surface and growing course and soft as it
descends till it rests on a bank of sand, apparently accumulated
by the influence of current at the change of the monsoons".
Also according to geological survey, it is apparent
that Miocene Era limestone beds are under the Adams Bridge which
connects Jaffna peninsula in Sri Lanka and Rameswaram in India.
[Ref: The pre-history of Sri Lanka by S.U.Deraniyagala]. The legends
as well as Archeological studies reveal that the first signs of
human inhabitants in Sri Lanka date back to the a primitive age,
about 1,750,000 years ago and the bridge´s age is also almost
equivalent. This information is a crucial aspect for an insight into
the mysterious legend called Ramayana, which was supposed to have
taken place in tredha yuga (more than 1,700,000 years ago). In this
epic, there is a mentioning about a bridge, which was built between
Rameshwaram (India) and Srilankan coast under the supervision of a
dynamic and invincible figure called Rama who is supposed to be the
incarnation of the supreme. This information may not be of much
importance to the archeologists who are interested in exploring the
origins of man, but it is sure to open the spiritual gates of the
people of the world to have come to know an ancient history linked
to the Indian mythology.
Palk Strait [PS]: PS is an inlet of Bay of Bengal. The PS is 64 kms
to 137 kms wide and 137 kms long. It receives several rivers
including Vaigai from India and contains many islands of Sri Lanka.
During 1997 Ministry of Surface Transport made Tuticorin Port Trust
[TPT], which celebrated its Silver Jubilee on last 10-07-2004, as
Nodal Agency for this project.
National Environmental Engineering Research Institute [NEERI] :
The Initial Environmental Exam was done by National Environmental
Engineering Research Institute [NEERI], Nagpur [a Central Government
Agency], in 1998 as directed by Nodal Agency, TPT. It recommends
securing a major marine project and a full scale, 'Environmental
Impact Assessment' [EIA]. The provisional executive summary of EIA
submitted by NEERI in May 2004 to the Nodal Agency, TPT after
receiving Rs. 1 Crore as per agreement. Nodal Agency expected
techno-economic feasibility report by this July, 2004 end. Detailed
Project Report [DPR] also has to be submitted before 30th November,
2004 by L & T of India and Rampaul of Denmark, the fixed contractors
Environmental Impact Assessment [EIA] by NEERI :
While reading the EIA, the following doubts emerge which are sought
to be cleared.
The introductory part of NEERI's report openly admitting that
dredging across Adam's Bridge and in the Palk Strait, and the
dredging along the proposed transit, is critical to the project
related issue. Other doubts to be cleared are:
- The Presence of Corals along the proposed ship
canal alignment in Adam's Bridge area has not been observed.
- It is also intimating us that ecological important species
along the proposed alignment is not significant.
- The report has not assessed the affected population on Land
Acquisition and Resettlements.
- 6 Km2 areas in the sea floor of Adam's Bridge will be
- Report instruct to control over marine pollution.
- Dispersal could occur to alien rare species in proposed
- Dhanushkody areas traditional fishing will be totally
- It is also estimated that, 84.5 million cubic meter of sand
and spoil would be dredged from the project area. Out of this, a
small quantity will be discharged in Pamban Island and the
remaining in Bay of Bengal. Here we want to know, a) whether
Neeri has worked out the 'under current' of sea water on the
excavation area as well in discharging area. b) It is also not
mentioned the exact location, where the dredged materials going
to be discharged in Bay of Bengal.
- In the EIA report, under 6.1, 'construction phase', it is said
that the dredged sand and spoil will be discharged in Pamban &
Bay of Bengal. Contradictory to this statement, in the same EIA
report, in 6.2, 'operational phase', it is reporting that
dredged materials will be mostly silt and clay and will not be
disposal in sea.
- NEERI asking a strict vigilance of crude oil tankers to avoid
oil spill in the sea. If oil spill happened due to unavoidable
circumstance, the agency has not suggested any remedial measure.
- The Agency suggesting that a trained pilot or environmental
watcher should be board in the ship to watch marine mammals. Is
this suggestion is possible in practical day-to-day life. Say
for e.g., if a vessel sail during night or in rainy or in dark
cloudy day, this suggestion will be a meaningless one.
Notably, NEERI has not considered the most important
international instruments, UN Law of Sea Convention 1982 and its 2
protocols anywhere in its report.
Problems Facing on Implementation of SSCP:
Geological: There will be a dredge of sea floor of 12.8 meter deep,
300 meter wide for 2 way traffic. If this happens to be sudden, tilt
in the sea bed, may cause numerous violent process, as like; a major
change in drift, possible change in gravitational pull etc.
Biological: This whole SSCP area is a biologically rich and rated
among the highly productive sea of the World. The zooplankton was
dominated by copepod. Macrobenthos were represented by 78 varieties,
meiofauna comprised larval polychaetes, nematodes, worms and
shrunken bodies of a new forms.
Coral Reefs: Coral reef system as also the ecosystem of the tropical
rain forest, are the most matured marine ecosystems of our planet.
They play an important role in global biochemical processes and in
the reproduction of food resources in the tropical regions. Coral
reefs act as a barrier against wave action along coastal areas thus
preventing coastal erosion. In addition, coral reefs protect
mangroves and sea grass beds in certain areas, which are the
breeding and nursing grounds of various economically important
fauna. Coral reefs are also important breeding, spawing, nesting,
and feeding areas for many economically important varieties of
fishes and other marine organisms. Coral reefs are a distinctive
shoreline habitat of stunning visual appeal found only between
latitudes 30oN and 30oS.
They grow only where sea surface temperatures are
above 20oC, the seabed is kept silt-free by prevailing currents and
waves, and there is intense surface sunlight. Most living coral
communities do not grow at depths of more than 50 m, although some
grow at depths of 100 m. The people living along the coast obtain a
considerable proportion of their food and earnings from the
productivity of coral reefs. Coral reef ecosystems are very
sensitive to external impacts both natural and manmade, which
violate their homeostasis (Sorokin 1992). Mangrove, sea-grass and
sea algal eco-systems have not been affected much by the acts of
anti-environmental elements; the important coral reef system
continues to be targeted.
According to the Wildlife Warden of the Gulf of
Mannar National Park, Naganathar, [The Hindu, Tuesday, Jun 08,2004]
that the Forest department officials could not take any action
against the `so-called groups' because the matter was in court.
Considering the importance of preserving the eco-system, the
department would prefer an appeal in the Madras High Court to get
vacated the stay, which was in favour of limestone industrialists,
he said. Environmentalists feel that unless tough action is
initiated against the "anti-environmentalists," the lives of nearly
five lakh fishermen would be affected.
For, breeding and feeding of fish cannot take place
in the absence of coral reef, which serves as a habitation for more
than 750 fish varieties. In GOM, Geomorphologically, coral reefs in
this area are of fringing type, though some patchy corals are also
observed in between Appa Island and Pilliyarmuni Island, and in some
areas like Bharathi nagar coast and southeast coast of Kariya Shuli
Island. The major causes of coral reef degradation are:
- Over fishing and destructive fishing practices
- Sea weed collection
- Commercial shell collection
- Coral mining
- Poor land use practices
- Coastal urban development
- Harbour and dredging activities
- Industrial development and pollution
Rainfall in both GOM and PS is estimated around 900
mm annually. This is due to coral reef as per scientist version.
According to the above reports, the project implementation may
destruct coral reefs which, in turn, would tend to cause:
- High sea tides
- Surges might occur
- Hurricane, cyclone etc might take place
National Marine Park or Biosphere Reserve: The Tamil Nadu Forest
Department and the Ministry of External Affairs have already
declared 21 islands in 623.12 hectors, as National Marine Parks. But
now the Government of India through the NEERI says that the proposed
alignment will be far away from this National Marine Park. i.e.,
'Van Tivu' - the nearest island will be about 6 km and 'Shingle'
island will be 20 km.
Marine Mammals: Rare Species like sea turtles, dolphins, sea cows,
sacred sharks, thorny sea horse*, dugongs and whales are already
located and these areas said to be their natural habitat and grazing
region. There are also dangers of oil spills and other forms of
One expert from Sri Lanka Lareef Zubair, formerly of the Institute
of Fundamental Studies, Kandy, wrote in a Sri Lankan newspaper
'Daily News' dated 07-04-1999, that the SSCP would disturb the
marine life in the Palk Strait 'gravely'.
Archaeological: We have come to know in our life time itself that
Dhanskodi, a part of India's coastal area submerged in 1964 due to
land submission. In the Sangam period, we have learnt about the city
of Poompukar etc.
Even though the NEERI reports deny the existence of archaeological
structures under the sea bed, we insist to investigate more on this.
Otherwise, after the dredging, there is possibility of loosing the
archeological treasures that may be lying beneath the sea.
Oceanographic : A fear has also been expressed that, after the Gulf
of Mannar is dredged to cut the ship canal, nearly 85 islets in the
Western coastal region of Sri Lanka will be submerged into the sea.
According to Oceanographers' view, Indian Ocean around the tip of
the Indian peninsula is an ancient area in natural transition which
has not yet completed its full formation. This section is the most
complex relief and the earth crust is still in motion. According to
Mr. K. Arulandam, Oceanographer at the National Aquatic Resources
Research and Development Agency [NARA], since implementation of the
project would cause an impact on environment affecting marine life,
remedial measures should be taken to care ('Hindustan Times',
Socio-Economic: Fishing has been the sole occupation of 20 million
living along the coast of Gulf of Mannar and in Palk Strait. They
have been in close proximity with the sea, so that, their
life-style, culture, community and social life have centered on the
sea. The main livelihood activities of the fishermen residing in the
villages adjoining to the coastal area are (i) fishing, (ii) seaweed
collection, (iii) chanks collection, (iv) coral mining, (v) fire
wood collection and (vi) agriculture.
There are 87 fish landing stations between the south of Point
Calimere and Pamban and 40 fish landing stations in the Gulf of
Mannar. The fisher folk want irksome fishing regulations to be
repealed. As of now, fishermen are allowed to venture into the sea
between 5 am and 9 pm for three days in a week. However, bad weather
conditions keep them shore-bound for 45 days in a year.
The NEERI report accepts that 200 out of 600 varieties of fishes are
commercially important. If we look at the past, fish production in
1992-1996 recorded 55,325 tonnes. In 2001, a huge increase of
2,05,700 tonnes has been registered because of coral reefs.
There are 138 villages and towns spread in 5 districts through the
coastal area from Gulf of Mannar to Palk Strait in Tamil Nadu State.
More than 50% of the fishing populations in this area are in debt.
If this project is implemented, socio-economic problem will multiply
due to unemployment.
UN Law of Sea Convention, 1982:
The dangers posed by the project violate the UN Law of Sea
- Part II, Section2, Article 6 deals with Reefs, Article 9 tells on
Mouths of Rivers, Article 10 speaks about Bays.
- Part V, Article 61 - Conservation of the living resources, Article
64 - Highly Migratory species.
- Part V, Article - 65 and Part VII, Section 2, Article 120 also
speaks on Marine Mammals.
- Part VII, Section 2, Article 116 speaks on fishing rights.
- Part XI, Section 2, Article 145 and Article 237 emphasizing that
protection of Marine Environment is obligatory. In the same part
Article 146 urges the need for protecting the Human life, Article
149 and Part XVI, Article 303 both deals with Archaeological and
- Part XIII, Section 3, Article 254 dealt with Rights of neighboring
land-locked and geographically disadvantaged States.
Considering our Neighborhood, Sri Lanka:
- Till now the Indian Government has not even officially notified to
Sri Lanka of SSCP proposal even as a matter of courtesy.
- There were no clear markings of the territorial waters belonging
to India and Sri Lanka. As such, the criterion upon which it was
announced that the entire project would remain within the Indian
waters is still unclear.
- Jaffna Peninsula in Sri Lanka and Rameswaram in India are linked
via Miocene era lime stone reefs. And if, for the purpose of SSCP
dredged, there is a notion that half of Jaffna peninsula & nearly 85
islands on the western and north western coast of Sri Lanka and half
of Rameswaram [The Honourable Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam, President of
India's Birth place and where his family is still residing] in India
will go under water.
- There is a fear that a sizable fisher folks in North and North
western part of Sri Lanka will also be affected and there is also
fear that Republic of Mal Dives fishermen also be affected.
- Indian Government should have considered obtaining "no objection"
from the Government of Sri Lanka as per UN law of Sea Convention,
'Manitham' Survey Report:
We, "Manitham", undertook extensive travel through Tamil Nadu
Coastal areas and gathered opinions of persons from various walks of
life such as: fishermen, educationalists, politicians, Human Rights
Activists, experts from marine engineering, oceanographers,
environmental consultants etc. We started survey from Nagoor in
Nagapatinam on 18-07-2004, Rameswaram- 19-07-2004, Tuticorin,
Tirnelveli & Nagarkoil - 20-07-2004, and ended on 21-07-2004 at
The following are the results:
- Most of the persons we met just know name of
the project and do not know anything else. Those who know they
will be affected oppose this project.
- Swami Pranavanda of Rameswaram opposed this project during the
year 2000. He wants to transfer the project borderline to the
east of Sri Kothandaram Temple located at Rameswaram. He
organised a signature campaign and passed it to the then Prime
Minister A. B. Vajpayee to Defense Minister George Fernandes.
Mr. Fernandes also visited Vivekanda Kudil, where Swami
Pranavanda lives ["Kumudam-Reporter", 20-05-2004].
- At Tuticorin, a bore well was recently laid 0.5 kms from Sea
Shore in which soil was seen up to 23 feet while there were only
shells from the next 10 feet. At Eral village we can see even
now that only shells are available in the ground level itself.
- According to retired Marine Engineers whom we met,
revenue-wise also the project will not be a profitable one. For
example, as per Government of India, the 36-hour voyage time can
be saved by SSCP. Here we have to look after the following
limitations and constraints:
a] Only 30 feet draft ships can be allowed to cross SSCP.
b] The ships have to reduced its speed to half, while crossing
Practically speaking, a ship will take at least
20-24 hours to cross SSCP. Also, ships have to pay toll charges for
crossing and a pilot boat, with payment has to install to lead the
vessel. Naturally, ships visiting Chennai and Visakhapattanam need
to use this way, we have to assess how many ships would be daily
sailing through SSCP. According to retired marine Engineers who
worked in Tuticorin port hardly 2 or 3 ships won't be crossing
daily? Therefore, even in revenue terms, the project cannot be
treated as a profitable/feasible one.
- We met the Nodal Agency Chairman Mr.Ragupathy
IAS at his office on 20-07-2004. However, he and his associates
refused to give information on SSCP. He simply directed our team
to his PRO, who appeared to, do not know anything about this
project. The Chairman also told us to attend the public hearing,
if any, conducted by the Nodal Agency in future. [We received
information that the Public Hearing will be held on August, 24 &
- We also met Environmental Consultants. In general they
accepted that there will be a small impact on environment and
this project definitely affect the coral reefs, coastal people,
marine mammals etc.
History of World Canals:
We have also conducted a small study on canals. Before 4000 B C,
King Menc built a canal in Upper Egypt, which was considered to be
the first of its kind. In 1666 A D, the Pierre Paul Riguet dredge,
Languedoc canal [also known as 'Canal Du Midi'], was constructed to
connect Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, which was the first
canal that connects two seas. The man-made waterway, the Suez Canal
of present, was originally 15 meter deep to allow 50 feet of draft
to pass. The work was started to increase this to 22 meter deep by
2010 so as to allow super tanker passage. In the Suez Canal, in
particular, only 90% sand and 10% rock were dredged. Notably, out of
total 1.5 million Egyptians who worked on Suez Canal, 1,25,000 had
died. The above canals were dredged on land and not on coral reefs
as in our area.
Controversial SSCP issue:
The project was criticized by Mr. Ti. Shamugarasa in his article in
In Tamil Nadu coastal region, the 'Tamizhaga Meenaver Tennurimai
Iyyakkam' conducted agitation in 2000 against this project. An
article by Bangkok-based online daily 'Asian Tribune' Editor
K.T.Rajasingham, 'India-canal the Genocidal SSCP', and another
article 'A Canal.....and an Island' it carried (both on 28-08-2002),
reflected natural calamities that might result out of this project.
Manitham is not totally objecting SSCP. Instead, we only want to
know the absolute truth behind SSCP. We are asking, as we have a
right under UN Law of Sea Convention, 1982 Part XI, Article 169 -
before implementation [of the SSCP], consultation should be held
with Independent International NGO's on this project for perfect
clearance in all forms and terms. On this criteria, we want
'Independent International Experts' be allowed to give a fair report
We suggest that a canal to qualify as a ship canal must have a
minimum depth of at least 5 meter [16 .4 feet]. Therefore, at
present, we can do the minimum depth so as to avoid big
We request that before issuing 'no objection certificate' by the
Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, Tamil Nadu Department of Forests
and Environment, and Union Ministry of Environment, to make the
Nodal Agency to come forward to clear all the lingering issues
connected with this project with the help of 'Independent
International Experts' Report'.
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