Seven scientific inconsistencies in the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal
By Dr.R.Ramesh

20 June 2005, Asian Tribune

The idea to have Sethusamudram Shipping Canal is one and a half centuries old. British Raj, Government of India, Government of Tamil Nadu and the Ministry of Shipping have taken initiatives to study the feasibility of the canal at various times. However, all these studies had been of a general nature and none of them, including the current study by National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur, have attempted to produce a technical feasibility study that is scientifically consistent.

Tuticorin Port Trust and the Ministry of Shipping claim that NEERI's study is perfect scientifically. They also claim that the Hydrodynamic Modeling Study for the canal by Indomer Hydraulics Pvt. Ltd., done in the year 2004, proves that there would not be any damage to the coastal environment of India or Sri Lanka. They also assert that the computer simulation model of the December tsunami by Kenji Satake of Japan proves that tsunamis do not have a negative impact on the region where the canal will be dredged. They also assure us that five institutions have been asked to study the movement of sediments in real time, when the dredging work will be going on, so that if anything negative shall happen, it could be corrected immediately.

All these arguments make us feel that everything is fine technically with Sethu Project; but when analyzed in depth, a picture that is exactly opposite emerges.

Sethusamudram Shipping Canal in its present form is scientifically inconsistent on seven counts:

1) NEERI EIA, the study that gives the project its scientific legitimacy, has ignored the studies available on the sedimentation pattern of Palk Bay completely and has not fixed the exact locations wherein the dredged material would be dumped - these studies are crucial for the economic and technical survival of project, as they will give us an idea of how much sediment should be dredged each season and also prepare us for a study that will tell us where the dumped sediments will move every season,

2) Subsurface geology has been studied only for the 20 kilo meter stretch of the canal in the Adam's Bridge area; Nothing is known about the subsurface geology of the Palk Strait region, where the canal's length will be 54.2 km; if the sub surface turns out to be rocky, the cost of the project will go up many folds, and the effect of blasting these rocks would cause serious damages to the Palk Bay environment; this is stated by none other than the Technical Feasibility Report prepared by NEERI,

3) The historical cyclone data for this region from the years 1860 to 2000 tell us that cyclones cross this region and its neighborhood once every four years; all these cyclones have been proven to cause severe erosion of the coastal stretch in the nearby areas and then dump the eroded material in Palk Bay and Adam's Bridge area; NEERI's EIA, however, has ignored the issue of cyclones totally,

4) Indomer's 'Hydrodynamic Modeling Study for SSCP' has also ignored the issue of the impact of cyclones on the canal completely. Thus, we do not know, what will happen to the canal in scientific terms during the period of cyclones,

5) Kenji Satake's tsunami simulation model has been accepted as correct by international tsunami authorities; this model describes tsunami propagation in general terms, but fails to give us a clear picture of tsunami wave action in Palk Bay area; Tsunami computer simulation models by Prof. Steven N.Ward of University of California, Prof.Aditya Riyadi of Pusat Penelitian Kelautan Insitut Teknologi, Bandung, Indonesia, WI-Delft Hydraulics, Netherlands and DHI Softwares, USA and Indomer-Alkyon describe to us graphically the way tsunami waves attacked Palk Bay on December 26th. It was the models by Steven, Aditya and DHI that had prompted International tsunami expert Prof.Tad.S.Murty to warn Prime Minister's Office on January 30, 2005 about the possible negative impact of SSCP during the times of future tsunamis,

6) Post Tsunami Studies by Department of Ocean Development and Zoological Survey of India have indicated that Palk Bay has received huge amount of sediment during the tsunami; that means, the amount of sediment that should be dredged would be much higher than it was planned earlier; this is definitely bound to increase the cost of the project,

7) Without these baseline studies, merely collecting the sediment samples at various places by various agencies will not help either to protect the canal during the time of future cyclone/tsunami or to protect the nearby coastal environment from the unexpected movement of the dredged dumps.

It is an international norm that offshore projects like SSCP should undertake a thorough scientific analysis of all the factors that would turn out to damaging to the stability of the canal at the planning stage itself.

The proponents of SSCP have not undertaken such a thoroughgoing study, in spite of having been warned by eminent geologists like Prof. C.P.Rajendran or Prof.Tad.S.Murty of the deficiencies found in their studies. The March 8, 2005 note from none other than PMO had highlighted all these issues. However, the project proponents have not felt it necessary to come out with an open and transparent - one to one answer to every question raised in the PMO note. The proponents of the canal should have planned the right meticulous way, as they plan elsewhere in other parts of the world. Merely signing an MOU with Suez Canal Authority in the final days is really funny and will certainly not protect the canal from the existing high risk factors. Only consistent studies can make the idea of a reliable canal a real possibility. Undertaking the project in the present form, it is felt, would turn out to be disastrous to the economy of Sri Lanka and India and to their present marine environment.