Scientists highlight the Nonviability of Sethu Project

published on October 19, 2007



The National Seminar organized by Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Contemporary Studies, Cochin University of Science and Technology and Centre for Innovation in Science and Social Action (CISSA) at School of Ocean Science and Technology, Cochin, highlighted the non-viability of Sethusamudram Shipping Channel Project, considering the ecological,  geological and economic perspectives.


Inaugurating the Seminar,Dr. E.P. Yesodharan,  Executive Vice President of Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment said that the projected economic benefits of the Project like savings in distance and fuel costs by the proponents would not tally with the exact cost-benefit analysis performed. Further, detailed modelling studies are required to realize the impacts of excavating a channel in Rama Sethu on Kerala coast in   view of the natural calamities frequenting the area.


The programme was presided over by Dr. C.S.P. Iyer, former director, C-MARS.


Prof. P. Natarajan, Rajiv Gandhi Chair proposed welcome and felicitations were offered by Dr. K.T. Damodaran, Director, School of Ocean Science and Technology, Cochin, Dr. K. Mohan Kumar and Prof. N.R. Menon. Prof. NR Menon said that it is not a regional issue and Sea should be considered as a National Resource as the proposed Channel seriously impairs the living wealth of the ocean.

The Seminar opined that arguments for and against the project should be based on actual ecological and socio-economic paradigms, and scientists in the country has to play a proactive role in providing   benchmark data so that the viability of the Project could be analysed scientifically.


Dr. CSP Iyer in his key-note address explained that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) carried out by National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, Nagpur, based on which   clearance was given to the project, has not taken recent studies on the sedimentation dynamics. The EIA has only looked at the sedimentation dynamics of a small area, but ignored the adjacent portions. Palk Bay is considered as an area with high sedimentation  rate. On an average 14 cyclones were believed to hit the east coast, besides phenomenon like tsunami. This has not been taken into account in the EIA Report, while addressing the issues of dumping the dredged materials of the canal nor in the operation of the navigation through the canal.

Captain Balakrishnan of Chennai in his paper pointed out that the LTTE factor has a direct bearing on the safety of ships navigating through  Sethusamudram Channel. LTTE have displayed considerable ingenuity and daring in sea born insurgency. It is pertinent to note that Sethusamudram canal is a next door neighbour in the area of operation of sea tigers. He exposed the futility of the argument that Sethusamudram canal is beneficial to our military as it establishes the connection between east and west coasts. During period of hostilities, it is improbable that ships on passage to either coast would navigate through the Sethusamudram canal as it militates against   the basic principles of naval operations of avoiding straits and narrows to maintain secrecy of deployment.

Jesu Retnam, Convenor of Coastal Action Network, Nagapatnam explained that the fishermen villages Arimunai and Dhanushkodi would be displaced due to the construction activities associated with the project. Without assessing the extent of land acquisition and the affected population the Environment Impact Assessment is incomplete. The traffic of vessels close to the coast as per the drafted plan from   Chennai to Tuticorin will hinder the fishing operation of the traditional fisher people and mechanised boat owners along the entire the coast from Chennai to Tuticorin. Fishing has been the sole occupation of 20 million fisher folks living along the coast of Gulf of Mannar and in Palk Strait. If the proposed Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project is implemented it will result in drastic sea erosion along the entire coast from Tuticorin to Kodiakarai, due to continuous dredging   to maintain the depth of the canal for transit of vessels. This will displace the fishing population in about 330 fishermen villages.

Dr. A. Biju Kumar of Department of Aquatic Biology and Fisheries, University of Kerala stated that Gulf of Mannar Marine Biosphere  Reserve is a geographical and physiological unique marine system in India. A busy continuous navigation in this region will offset and trigger devastating ecological imbalance, affecting the lives of millions of fishermen and many endangered organisms such as corals,   sea horses, sea cow, etc. It is clear that the excavation, waste from ships and other effluents will considerably impact the biodiversity of the area, to the extent that it will impact not only the region but the entire Indian coast including Kerala. The project, in the long run, will trigger a series of biological catastrophes in Indian coast.


The Gulf of Mannar – Palk Bay area is a backwater, Adam’s Bridge acting as a barrier to the flow of water through it. In these relatively warm waters a complex of ecosystems has grown, which could be severely affected. The effect on the environment of the project, during both the constructional and operational phases, will be immense.

Jacob John, infrastructure economist from Bangalore said that the savings in fuel for non-coastal voyages is much smaller than projected. The world shipping scenario is now dominated by large ships with 60,000 and more DWT (Dead Weight Tonnage). However, Sethusamudram   channel can accommodate only ships upto 30,000 DWT. The non usage of the canal by non-coastal ships, the increasing interest rates and the high uncertainty of using the canal are also likely to make the project financially unviable. If ships are unlikely to use it; and the   project is unlikely to be financially self sustaining, it is prudent to review this project at this stage even considering the amounts that have already been spent on it. In fact, it would set a good standard of public accountability and governance to constantly review projects with all the new information that progressively becomes available, Jacob John said.


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