A Report: Sethu Samudram Project

A national seminar on impact of Sethu Samudram project on Kerala’s coast was held at Thiruvananthapuram under the joint effort of University of Kerala, Botany Department and Centre for Innovation in Science and Social Action (CISSA), an NGO, on April 26. Vice-Chancellor of Kerala University, Dr. M.K. Ramachandran Nair inaugurated the deliberations. Dr. C.P. Rajendran, senior scientist with Centre for Earth Science Studies (CESS) and an international expert on earthquakes said there are scientific objections to the project and Environmental Impact Assessment of National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, Nagpur (Neeri) is questionable. “The Palk Bay Straits is known for high sedimentation rate. Dredging and blasting will change the chemistry of the sea and destroy coral reefs. Since it is an area of cyclonic and tsunami threat, constant dredging and blasting for the Bay of Bengal segment, which is shallow, will be highly dangerous. Moreover due to heavy rains, silt will get accumulated in the channel and constant dredging is required, which is uneconomical. The dredging and blasting will destroy the Ram Sethu, which protected Kerala during tsunami. He concluded that it is a disaster in the making. Presenting his paper Dr. A. Bijukumar, a national authority on bio-diversity, said the Gulf of Manager Marine Biosphere Reserve which is the hot spot of marine bio-diversity and visited by varsities world over will be totally destroyed due to constant dredging and blasting. “This area abounds in mangroves, coral reefs and sea grasses. Sea horses, sea cows and turtles will be lost for ever, since the 12-metre deepening is going to be disastrous. There will be disastrous impact on whales and dolphins, which are endangered and protected species world over. UNESCO is spending six crore US dollars every year, since the 3600 species and 117 coral reefs are available nowhere. The 21 islands and Kurusadai isle are a biologists’ paradise. Environment in the Gulf of Manner is different from that of the Palk Bay Strait. Since there will be more turbidity, an oil slick will destroy the entire marine bio-diversity. The project is a biological catastrophe on the Indian coast. Dr. P.S. Anil Kumar, an expert on remote sensing and senior scientist of Geological Survey of India, said he has studied the effects of damages on Ram Sethu through remote sensing using digital image processing and spatial enhancement. Ram Sethu is a chain of lime stone shoals, which are hindrances to navigation. It has channels within it and will be changing according to season. It consists of conglomerate of sand stones, which are hard at surface and soft as they go down. Ram Sethu also consists of small reefs, which cannot be protected during dredging. These reefs protected Kerala from large destructions during tsunami. Ram Sethu is a 100 patch reefs with intermittent deep channels, which is a coastal geomorphologic feature. The area is highly cyclone prone. He concluded by saying if sea water rises 15 meters, Kerala will disappear and opined that project should be stopped immediately. Dr. Lal Mohan, environmentalist of Conservation of Nature Trust, Smt. Jesu Rethinam of Coastal Action Network and Jacob John, fisher folk leader of Karnataka opined that it is a political project of DMK to gain votes. They opined that no economic viability study has been made. “No international shipping agency will accept this as a safe route due to its narrowness. Effect of grounding will be disastrous. Loose sand and stilt will come into sea from Vaigai river. Now, even after continuous dredging loose sand is filling up the dredged channel. Not only the initial Rs.3,000 crore but several thousand crore will be lost. Due to continuous rains, dredging will have to be done continuously which will be disastrous and un-economical. The sea here is called ‘Lady Sea’, since it is turbulent and only Ram Sethu stops this turbulent water. If it is blasted, Kerala will be submerged in another tsunami. Around 550 fishing villages and 1.50 lakhs fishermen will lose livelihood through this project. The risk involved is higher since density and volume of population along India’s coast has increased. Dr. C.S.P. Iyer, president, CISSA, welcomed the delegates and Dr. C. Suresh Kumar, secretary, CISSA and a former stormy leader of ABVP, proposed a vote of thanks.