Ecological reasons to oppose Sethusamudram project

Published: Monday 15 October 2007

before the Sethusamudram project began, many had cautioned the government against going ahead with the shipway. The ambitious project has claimed its casualty even before the first brick has been laid on it: specialist opinion. The government had long poured scorn over ecological objections against the proposed shipway in the Palk Straits. Many were bought in by its argument that the route by the new canal would drastically shorten the journey between India's eastern and western seaboards.

There was every reason to question the project. The techno-economic feasibility and environmental impact assessment (eia) report submitted by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institution (neeri) in 2004 was a questionable document. Touted as the final eia, it categorically described itself as a rapid assessment and promised a detailed study later. When Coastal Action Network went to Madras High Court questioning the validity of a rapid eia, the project authority described it as an 'editing error'. We believe that. In fact, we'd argue that the eia was a bad editorial hardsell of the project.

Meteorological researchers consider the region highly vulnerable, because of unpredictable cyclones. The report had no data to assure the safety of fully loaded ships. It was based on secondary data; critics argue that some data on biodiversity was outdated. The report only looked at the canal to be made and overlooked the surrounding area. This was a bad omission since the project involves dredging the seabed and dumping the dredged material. The report did not consider hydrological dynamics, which would have thrown light on dredging requirements. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board refused to clear the project. It constituted an expert panel which blasted the neeri report. Understandably, this expert report never saw the light of day.

Neither will the seagrass under the sea, with dredging creating huge turbidity. That could be the beginning of the end. The Gulf of Munnar Marine Biosphere Reserve, with about 3,600 flora and fauna species, is just 20 km away from the canal alignment. Seagrass is vital for prawn, turtle and fish, which will also be affected by loss of coral reef. Many fishing villages are threatened. Fisherfolk's protests have been ignored.

There are many valid reasons to oppose the project. Sadly, blind followers, supporters or opponents of the Sethusamudram project do not see the light of science and logic.

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