Manitham Report on humanitarian issues of SSCP

Manitham - Humanism, a Tamil Nadu regional based human rights organization, has taken up the issue of Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project to explore and ascertain the impact it might have on humanity and on Sri Lanka, once the construction - actually cutting of the canal starts in the Gulf Mannar Sea.

In a statement released by "Manitham" states: "Now, 'Manitham' has undertaken Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project [SSCP] in our hands, because, we are receiving conflicting reports that the construction of this project might cause untold miseries to humanity."

In the statement "Manitham" has said: SSCP is a mega project in its kind and by constructing the canal we want to ascertain whether there would be any geological, oceanographic and environmental changes, by which whether there would be any land subsidence which would cause a major portion of Sri Lanka going under water.

The statement went on to state that according to reports "Manitham" has received, that by constructing the project a section of the humanity faces danger of land subsidence of their residential areas and even uncertainty of their lives.

According to the reports, it will be not one or two persons who are going to be affected, but it may be a few million people whose lives are in danger of being marooned to death, when their residential areas goes under water.

We are of the opinion that this fear expressed by a section of humanity may be unfounded, and may be not. But when the fear expressed involves the life and death of a section of humanity, then it cannot be simply dispelled or ignored.

Recently when delivering his budget speech in the floor of lower house of parliament, India's Finance Minister P.Chidamparam, a native of Tamil Nadu said : "The Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project is a longstanding demand - nay dream - of the people of peninsular India. I am happy to inform the House that the Environmental Impact Assessment study of the project has been completed by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur. NEERI is now preparing the techno-economic feasibility report and the report is expected to be submitted shortly. The Ministry of Shipping proposes to establish a special purpose vehicle (SPV). The SPV will raise funds for the project and Government will participate in the funding through a mix of equity support and debt-guarantee."

Tough the Minister spoke of the dream project, he failed to allocate even the initial fund for the construction of the project, but he announced of "Environmental Impact Assessment study of the project has been completed by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur."

"Manitham" alleges "Our investigation reveals that NEERI has not considered UN Law on Sea Convention 1982, while making their reports.

Human rights organization went on to say: According to our survey it reveals that the Sethusamudram canal would originate from Tuticorin Port, extend in a north-north east direction in the Gulf of Mannar up to Rameswaram area, then cut through Adam's Bridge and proceed in Palk Bay area, almost parallel to the Indo-Sri Lankan boundary line (about 3 km from the boundary), and join the Bay of Bengal opposite Point Calimere.

The total length of the canal would be about 260 km - about 120 km from Tuticorin Port to Adam's Bridge (in Gulf of Mannar) and about 140 km north of Rameswaram from Adam's Bridge to Bay of Bengal channel (in Palk Bay). The canal is being investigated for different drafts (for 9.15 m, 10.7 m and 12.8 m).

Further it was said that the entire alignment would be within Indian waters.

It was unfortunate up to date, there was no clear markings of the territorial waters belonging to India and Sri Lanka and it is unclear based on what criteria it was announced that the entire project would remain within the India waters, "Manitham" raises this pertinent question.

"Manitham" further points out, when India proposes to do something within close proximity of the neighbor's territorial waters then Indian Government should have considered obtaining "no objection" from the Government of Sri Lanka.

Unfortunately, "Manitham" went on to state, according to our reports that this proposal of this Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project, up to date, Indian Government has not even officially notified to Sri Lanka of their proposal even as a matter of courtesy.

Therefore, "Manitham" has decided explore fully the impact of the Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project. "Manitham" representatives will be visiting the coastal areas and meet the local fishermen for their feedbacks and discuss the issue with leading geological, marine and oceanographic experts before sending our report to Tamil Nadu Government of our finding for necessary actions.

Letter from Manitham to UN Secretary General


Koffi Annan


Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General

United Nations, S-378

New York, NY 10017

Tel. 212-963-7162

Fax. 212-963-7055

Honorable Secretary General,

"THAT A MEGA scheme such as the Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project (SSCP), which undoubtedly will change the face the earth in two countries and might exacerbate the possibility of sudden natural disasters such as Tsunamis, Tidal waves or Cyclones. It could also create the conditions of slow disasters such as the destruction of the ecological system of the Gulf of Mannar (GOM) or the Palk Bay, destroy the breeding grounds for the marine life and thereby ruin the livelihood of millions of fisherman in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka or ruin the farmers of the Northern Province by gradually increasing the salinity of the ground water.

The serious ramifications and consequences of such an occurrence has been brought to the fore by the recent Tsunami on December 26, 2004, and the 8.7 Earthquake, with the epicenter around the same spot, causing great fear of a repetitive Tsunami tidal wave on March 28 2005. Being rudely awakened just before midnight and running for their dear life would have created a greater "fear psychosis" than last year among the fisher folks and coastal residents, which the pundits in Delhi, Chennai or Colombo might be unable to comprehend. What is more shocking is that all the politicians of both countries have shown a callous disregard to the feelings and sentiments of the POOR fisherman or Farmers, and are only competing with each other for political glory and credit without realizing that this project would not only be a commercial disaster but an ecological disaster as well. The Billion-Dollar question is whether the politicians or the pundit care?

There is also the fear of pollution caused by a marine accident, war, or subversive group's actions, or a slow process of pollution, which will have disastrous effects on marine life, fisheries, and the virgin beaches of both countries. It is an undeniable fact that India as a nation has fought bitter and regular wars with all its neighbors namely Pakistan, Bangladesh (then, East Pakistan), China and Sri Lanka. There is also news that there are secret plans and schemes within the Indian military to build the Nuclear Sub Marine bases within the Sethu Samudram Canal (SSC) and Palk bay, which will be protected by the landmass of both Sri Lanka and India. Koodankulam in the next 5 years is scheduled to produce over 40 per cent of the Nuclear fuel in India.

Where will a prudent military and government store their nuclear fuel? It would obviously not expose their Nuclear fuel to its sworn enemies. It would be smart and prudent for Delhi to store such Nuclear fuel in the Palk Bay, protected by its fleet of Submarines and the Navy, as well as the friendly neighbor Sri Lanka.

Besides that, the region around the SSC is sparsely populated and only littered with poor fisherman and laborers who have been devastated by the TSUNAMI tidal wave. If there is a nuclear accident, an incident due to war or deliberate acts by certain subversive groups, Tamil People in Tamil Nadu and the Tamils of the Northern Province would suffer immensely. The effects of radiation will most affect both Sri Lanka and South India due to the wind pattern of that region, and ocean currents. Let us not forget the Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS) Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam was nearly destroyed and many died, forcing the Government of India [GOI] to shut it down. The casualties and damage is still a secret. A more direct hit would cause a huge human disaster worse than Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That is what will happen if Koodankulam takes a direct hit due to cyclone, tidal wave or by an earthquake. There is nowhere to run for the South Indians, particularly Tamil Nadu people or the 20 million Sri Lankans.

For whatever reason, politicians and the Ministers of Indian Government seem to be in a great big rush to execute a SSCP that was conceived not less than 145 years ago by the British. There may be unanimity among political parties in Tamil Nadu on the need for the SSCP; and a sense of righteous indignation that it has taken so long for the Center to implement it. But that does not justify the manner in which the public hearings are being manipulated and handled by certain section of the political parties in the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu, and opposition to the project is being callously dealt with, when people are even beginning to question the independence of the regional judiciary. There may be a host of advantages claimed by the State and the Tuticorin Port Trust [Nodal Body] of the SSCP, under the mistaken illusion of reshaping shipping routes of South Asia like the Suez or Panama Canal. But the government officials fail to DISCLOSE to India, Sri Lanka, and the International community that more than 70 percent of the cargo has to bypass the canal due to the draft restrictions (Not greater than 36,000 tonners) as the canal would be unable to handle most of the oil and gas tankers, grain and bulk carriers, or the container vessels. Furthermore the officials are deliberately miscalculating the distance saved transiting the canal compared to circumnavigating Sri Lanka, nor have they given any time allowance for the transit of the high canal fees and dues for transit as well as pilotage and shipping agency fees. Security issues considering the high security and nuclear zones in the canal, as well as other labor or weather delays has been carefully camouflaged or omitted. The possibilities of navigational errors, and accidents with local fishing boats cannot be discounted, as Murphy's law would be quite alive. When one considers all the factors there might not be even any saving on time, fuel, or other additional costs involved. It is also a fact that GOI is not disclosing the secret long term military plans, and nuclear weapons program for the region.

All these problems were publicly and privately chronicled many months before the Tsunami Tidal wave. With the effects of the Tsunami, and serious Earthquake, and the tremors felt in South India and Sri Lanka there is insufficient oceanic and geological information available to both India and Sri Lanka to permit such an undertaking of this magnitude. The SSCP also involves massive dredging, an estimated 85 million cubic meters of sand and spoil that will need safe disposal. This issue must be addressed honestly and transparently, with the consultation of our neighbour. The near extinction of several marine species unique to the Gulf of Manner [GOM], and the region, as well as the damage to the coral reefs which would lead to loss of fishing and breeding grounds has been very well documented by several professional groups. This also leads to sea erosion, and the effects during tidal waves and cyclones have been practically demonstrated both in 1964 and 40 years later in 2004. We do not need any further proof, and afford to risk the submergence of small islands North of Sri Lanka, which could also have effects on the 1500 atolls of the Maldives, as well as wipe out coastal regions.

India and Sri Lanka should ignore the political exigencies of a few, and give sufficient consideration to the humanitarian issues of the fisherman and the farmer, as well as respect the ecological damages the construction would cause. Tsunami has shown that oceans although within territorial waters of certain nations belong to the whole world or region. India should also keep in perspective and respect the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which both Sri Lanka and India ratified and acceded to, in the mid-1990s. Government of India is obligated to brief the Government of Sri Lanka in a friendly way without economic or military cohesion on the SSCP to rule out any kind of future bilateral problem. The shipping community in Colombo nor the Government of Sri Lanka do not foresee the dangers of the canal and the subsequent loss of container transshipment cargos to and from India, with the major development of the Vallarpadam and Tuticorin Container ports and terminals as well as the major investments in the Indian railways and highways connecting these two ports efficiently with the Industrial cities in the West and Northern India. Colombo port instead of a hub port would be reduced to a feeder port in the near future.

We urge the citizens of both India and Sri Lanka to commence a Signature Campaign district by district, region by region to let the judiciary, government officials, and their elected representatives at every level to know their genuine fears, sentiments and concern.

So, we urge the judiciary, government officials, and their elected representatives that there should be International Independent Investigations and research done by professional groups and experts prior to going ahead of this Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project.