Increased dangers from Tsunamis
(Extracts from an article by V Sundaram, Retired IAS Officer)

During the last tsunami in December 2004, the Ramar Bridge, also known as Adams Bridge in the Palk Bay acted as a natural barrier preventing the direct devastation of the entire South Indian coastline, south and southwest of Nagapattinam. Thus the Ramar Bridge, traditionally and popularly also known as Ramasethu, played a key role in protecting the coastline in South India against the unforeseen ravages of the tsunami in December, 2004.

The implementation of the Sethusamudram Canal Project (SSCP) will operationally involve the breaking and dismantling of the Ramar Bridge for creating a 300-meter wide canal. This in turn will suck the next, impending, tsunami waves directly into the South Indian coastline. The spread of the massive displacement of waters displaced by the Tsunami 'plate tectonics' of 2004 was such that it doused the Southern Tamilnadu coastline, circling the entire Sri Lanka Island and moving partially into Kerala and towards the Ramar bridge.

This circling around Sri Lanka occurred because the Ramar Bridge acted as a natural shoal barrier preventing the inflow of waters. If the Sethusamudram Canal is dug through the bridge, it will act as the channel for the waters to flow directly into the entire Southern India coastline beyond Dhanushkodi and into the coastline of Kerala right into the Konkan region. The resultant devastation will be incalculable. Keeping this aspect in mind, Dr. Tad S. Murty, an acknowledged international authority on the 'Tsunamis' has clearly indicated that creating the Sethusamudram Canal as per the existing alignment will only lead to unprecedented disasters during the next Tsunami which can happen at any time.

Dr. Murthy is Chief Editor of the reputed International Tsunami Journal 'Science of Tsunami Hazards' for over two decades. To quote his exact words of warning in this context: 'I like this (Sethusamudram) project, but there is a flaw. The entrance to the channel should be re-oriented towards the eastern side. Otherwise, there is a chance that it may create a deepwater route for another devastating tsunami. This may cause huge destruction in Kerala.' Taking note of this ominous warning, Government of India should immediately stop the construction of the project till this technical point raised by Dr Tad S Murty is carefully considered by a team of experts drawn from all the concerned technical fields, including the whole gamut of Earth Sciences.

Against this background, it will be clear how the Ramar bridge (Ramasethu) had acted as a 'a high wall' and, in fact, saved most of the coastline west and northwest of Dhanushkoti from total devastation during Tsunami 2004. There are clear indications that the environmental clearance was given to the SSCP without taking into account the following fundamental engineering and cost-benefit factors:
  1. Effect of a tsunami-type of event on the SSCP. All the scientists are unanimous in their view that a recurrence of tsunamis cannot be ruled out.
  2. Locations for dumping the dredged sand
  3. Costs of continuous dredging given the continuous sea currents which tend to create the shoals through the never-ending natural accretion process, again and again rebuilding the Ramar bridge, and thus making the SSCP, apart from being financially unviable, inoperable for most of the time.
  4. There has been no market study of the numbers and types of vessels which will navigate through the channel and the freight rates expected to be paid by these vessels for being tugged through the proposed Canal.
In the interest of safety of the lives of the coastal people, it is prudent to stop the project work until the fundamental factors are re-studied and re-evaluated. It is also essential to involve National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) in this exercise and create a Marine Archaeological Unit to study the archaeology of the Ramar Bridge and Kizhakkarai where a S'ankha Industry has been flourishing for centuries. It will be a tragedy of incalculable proportion to the cultural traditions of India, if this age-old industry were to be devastated by the SSCP.

The possibility of choosing alternative strategies with little or no impact on the Ramar Bridge should also be re-studied, taking into account the satellite images made available by NASA. To quote the beautiful words of the eminent Cultural Historian Dr S Kalyanaraman in this context: 'The received narratives of the submergence of Kumarikandam should be a pointer to the imperative of careful studies before embarking on projects which hurt the cultural sentiments of the people who are inheritors of a glorious sea-faring, maritime, riverine civilization continuum'.

The evaluation of the impact of a tsunami on the canal project has been irresponsibly and haphazardly managed. All the PMO's concerns should have been referred to NEERI and the NEERI should have been asked to re-evaluate the two principal issues: 1. impact of another tsunami on the canal as aligned; 2. impact on the ocean currents by the choice of dumping areas for the dredged materials. These two issues were NOT evaluated by NEERI because the final alignment was not known to NEERI and tsunami struck on 26 December 2004, an event which was not taken into account in the earlier evaluation report of NEERI.

Dr Tad S Murthy of Canada is one of the world's most respected tsunami experts. Till recently, he advised the Canadian government on tsunamis and played an important role in the development of the 'Baird' simulation model of the 26 December, 2004 tsunami.

He was on the editorial board of the prestigious Tsunami Journal, Science of Tsunami Hazards for many years and presently teaches at the University of Ottawa.

He has commented extensively and critically about the disastrous consequences of the Sethusamudram Canal Project (SSCP).

Prof. Tad S Murthy of Canada has raised serious concerns on the devastation of Kerala through the proposed canal which will suck in the next tsunami waves if the present alignment is retained. The Chairman of Tuticorin Port Trust has completely ignored the warnings given by Prof. Tad S Murthy of Canada.