The project involves cutting of a ship channel to connect Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal so that most of the ships moving between east and west coasts of India can have navigable sea route around the peninsula within India’s territorial waters, without circumventing Sri Lanka. But officials say that even after the completion of the project, the depth of the channel between the two nations will only be 12 metre and big vessels like very large crude carriers (VLCCs) won’t be able to pass through the channel. “Only medium-size or empty vessels will be able to pass through it,”. Sethusamudram Corporation  Ltd has been constituted for the implementation of the project. Once the project is completed, it is expected that the sailing time and distance for ships between East and West coast would be considerably reduced



The project will have serious adverse impact in Kerala Coast. The Bay of Bengal entrance of a sea canal project linking India's coasts should be realigned from facing east to northwest to protect the Kerala coast from future tsunamis, says a renowned expert on the phenomenon.

The present orientation of the Sethusamudram canal will "funnel tsunami energy into the channel and this will meet (any) tsunami travelling from the south of Sri Lanka at the southern end of Kerala," Tad S. Murty, an advisor to the government of Canada and an expert on tsunami, told a journalist and an environmental activist in an interview here last month.

He added that this would increase the height of tsunami waves along the Kerala coast.

"It is very easy to show that the canal will indeed provide another route for tsunamis and the energy will be directed towards south Kerala," Murty told journalist Asuran and activist Ramesh Radhakrishnan.

His comments were made available to IANS.

Murty had helped develop a simulation model of the Dec 26 tsunami, which killed over 220,000 people worldwide and about 10,000 in India.

In February, his paper titled Perspectives on Coastal Hazard Preparedness had set the tone for a workshop at the National Institute of Oceanography.

In his interview, Murthy said: "The southern part of Kerala was not much impacted by the Dec 26 tsunami mainly because the tsunamis that arrive from
the Indian Ocean have to diffract around Sri Lanka, which necessarily have to take a very wide turn and missed Kerala."

This is because tsunamis are long gravity waves and cannot bend as easily as short waves, just like a big car versus a mini. A mini can cut corners, but a big car has to take very wide turns.

"A re-orientation of the eastern entrance of the channel towards the northwest will fix the tsunami problem," he added.

The Tuticorin Port Trust, which is executing the channel project, does not think a realignment is necessary.

"(This) I absolutely disagree with. I have analysed the problem to my complete satisfaction," Murty maintained.

He cited the example of the Alberni canal on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

"The Sethusamudram canal has many characteristics similar to the Alberni canal, and this is the reason I am concerned.

"In the March 28, 1964, Alaska earthquake tsunami, outside of Alaska the largest tsunami amplitude was at the head of the Alberni canal well inland and not at the open coast as everyone expected. Later, I explained this was due to (a phenomenon known as) quarter wave resonance amplification," Murty explained.

Opponents describe the Rs.24 billion Sethusamudram project as an ecological disaster as it will upset the delicate balance in the Gulf of Mannar region.

--Indo-Asian News Service


 As far as the Lankans are concerned, the launch of the Sethusamudram Project has already triggered a second tsunami. Across the Palk Straits, political leaders raised the issue in Parliament; ecologists are crying out about the potential impact of the project on environment; and newspapers are running stories of how the project will affect the livelihood of fishermen. The Sunday Observer, on July 10, reported that fishermen from Pesalai and Talaimannar in Mannar district had complained to NorthEast Governor Tyronne Fernando that, "deepening of the Palk Straits under the Sethusamudram Canal project would destroy the breeding ground of fish in the sea territory close to Mannar shore." Environmentalists say that the project could destroy the coral reef in the area that is home to more than 700 fish varieties. The Palk Straits, Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar are known for their rich marine life. India, on July 14, termed the concern over possible environmental degradation as "baseless". 

Mangala Samaraweera, Sri Lanka's Ports, Shipping and Aviation Minister, tried to allay fears about the project. He said, "Our concerns on [the project's] possible impact to our economy, marine sources and the environment have been duly acknowledged by the Indian government." Samaraweera added that his government was having "sufficient and fruitful dialogue" with Indian officials over the implementation of the project. 
But, Sri Lankans are not convinced. Environmental Foundation Ltd, a leading public interest organisation in Sri Lanka, had this to say about the project: "The effect on the environment on the project, during both the constructional and operational phases, will be immense. 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 by the Sethusamudram Project." 

An EFL report concluded that the Sethusamudram Project was potentially damaging to the environment and could seriously affect Sri Lanka; it sought a proper study, including comprehensive modelling of potential water flows through the area, considering the Gulf of Mannar-Palk Strait as a part of the regional system as a whole; and demanded that all stakeholders, on both sides of the Palk Straits, be consulted in the course of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process.

The Sethusamudram Project, more than a century in the making, is about creating a ship channel across the Palk Straits between India and Sri Lanka. The dredged channel will allow ships to sail between India’s east and west coasts through the channel rather than circumnavigate Sri Lanka. It will result in saving of up to 424 nautical miles (780 km) and up to 30 hours in sailing time. The project is expected to have a deep impact on Port of Colombo, the only transshipment hub in South Asia. Sri Lanka is aware that the Sethu project could wean away ships calling in the Port of Colombo and Galle harbour.

Last week, Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar told Parliament, "If the Sethusamudram Project poses adverse effects to Sri Lanka, the government will take all necessary steps to safeguard the interests of our people and our country." Colombo is contemplating taking India to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Kadirgamar is also pressing for "joint monitoring and assessment of any adverse implication" of the project. Meanwhile, diplomatic negotiations continue between the two countries.

View of Lankans

[18 July 2005]