SETHUSAMUDRAM SHIP CANAL PROJECT - Manitham urges investigation by 'Independent International Experts Report' in Interim Report

Manitham [],working for promoting human rights and protecting environment, feels that a mega project and want to ascertain whether in constructing the Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project,would be any geological, oceanographic and environmental changes, as well as any land subsidence. Therefore, we decided to fully explore the environmental impact due to SSCP.

Interim Report:[in web :]

SETHUSAMUDRAM SHIP CANAL PROJECT - Manitham urges investigation by 'Independent International Experts Report' [MANITHAM]


"Construct a road by rising Sethu"

Our very familiar and India's freedom Tamil Lyric writer Maha Kavi (Great Poet) Bharathi in one of his famous poems 'Sindhu Nadhienelae'.

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 these memorializes is to bring to your kind notice matters connected with the proposed project of the Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project 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 ensuring that due precautionary measures were taken and there will be no damage to the Gulf of Mannar [GOM]'s biosphere while implementing the 142 year project SSCP.

We, 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 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 report.

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 Strait.

Geographic Location:

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 GOB 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 Vaippar River.

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 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.

Nodal Agency:

During 1997 Ministry of Surface Transport made Tuticorin Port Trust [TPT], which has 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, 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 submitted by NEERI's EIA in May 2004 to TPT 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 of SSCP.

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 permanently lost.
- Report instruct to control over marine pollution.
- Dispersal could occur to alien rare species in proposed alignment.
- Dhanushkody areas traditional fishing will be totally affected.
- 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 Bangal. 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 sailing during night or in rainy or in dark cloudy time, 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 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 pollution. Sea turtles are frequent visitors to the GOM as are sacred sharks, dugongs, and dolphins.

One expert from Sri Lanka Lareef Zubair, formerly of the Institute of Fundamental Studies, Kandy, wrote in a Sril 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 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. For example, 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', 15-06-2004).

Socio-Economic: Fishing has been the sole occupation of 20 million fisher folks 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 Convention, 1982.

- 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 historical objects.
- 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 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, 1982.

'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, experts from marine engineering, oceanographers, environmental consultants etc. We surveyed 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 Thiruvanandapuram.

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 reduced its speed while crossing SSCP.
Practically speaking, a ship will take at least 20-24 hours to cross SSCP. Also, ships have to pay toll charges for crossing. Naturally, as 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 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 & 25, 2004]

- 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. Notably, out of total 1.5 million Egyptians who worked on Suez Canal, 1,25,000 had died. The above canals are dredged on land and not on coral reefs as in our area. In the Suez Canal, in particular, only 90% sand and 10% rock were dredged.

Controversial SSCP issue:

The project was criticized by Mr. Ti. Shamugarasa in his article in Dinamani (26-07-1999).

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 28-08-2202), reflected natural calamities that might result out of this project.

MANITHAM's Demand:

Manitham is not totally objecting SSCP. Instead, we only want to know the absolute truth behind SSCP. We are asking for it 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 Report' be allowed to give a fair report on SSCP.


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 environmental problems.


We request you 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'.
Interim Report published on 30-07-2004.
A copy of this report submitted to :
1. Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, India
2. Department of Pollution, Tamil Nadu
3. Department of Environment, Tamil Nadu
4. Nodal Agency, SSCP, Tuticorin
5. Ministry of Environment, New Delhi
6. Ministry of Shipping, New Delhi

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