At a time when there is a World-wide concern about the deteriorating state of the global ecology and environment, the Government of India is pursuing the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (SSCP) in the Gulf of Mannar/ Palk Bay/ Palk Strait (GoMPBPS) and seems to have forgotten about the importance of the management and sustainable use of the marine environment and the ocean's role in global climate. The Government of India also fails to recognize the huge amount of support there is among the international community for the conservation of the Gulf of Mannar Marine Biosphere Reserve and Adam's Bridge (Ram Sethu). Alongside, there is a parallel concern that the fate of the SSCP now rests with the Supreme Court of India and the next hearing is scheduled for May 1st, 2008.

It is a matter of the utmost concern to us that in his pronouncements at the Sethusamudram Project hearings in the Apex Court on April 15th, the Hon. Chief Justice of India focused on questioning the veracity of Ram Sethu as a place of worship which over-shadowed the other equally vital arguments raised against this project by marine archeologists, ecologists, economists, environmentalists, seismologists, oceanographers and people living along the coastline - namely environmental, economic and social impacts of the SSCP.

There is unanimous agreement among political, religious and scientific communities in India as well as abroad that the SSCP has been inaugurated without any detailed review of the views of important stakeholder groups. According to Ocean and Environment scientists from CISSA, "the EIA studies and TFR on the basis of which clearance has been given for the project have not taken into account the fact that this is the first time in the world that a canal is being planned in mid ocean. There is no previous experience for guidance. It is not correct to make comparisons with Suez and Panama canals. Unlike these land- based canals, the proposed canal would be a part of an open body, subject to forces of frequent and unpredictable storms, cyclones, Tsunamis and other natural hazards".

Statements such as these and others raise concerns of the absence of due diligence in preparing a project of such national and international significance. We would like to cite several reasons for these concerns:

· ENVIRONMENTAL/ECOLOGICAL: The project will invade the Gulf of Mannar, which is one of South Asia's largest biosphere reserves, covering an area of 10,500 square kilometers. This area contains a wealth of ecological systems, which consist of terrestrial, coastal and marine flora and fauna of which 377 are unique to the region. Additionally, there are more than 100 species of corals and thousands of sea turtles and endangered sea animals like dolphins and dugongs that have thrived in the region over the years. The coral reefs, which surround the islands, are highly productive and are often referred to as "underwater tropical rain forest" and a treasure house for marine ornamental fishes. The Palk Bay section of the project is ecologically sensitive, with extensive sea grass meadows, corals, and other unique examples of biological diversity.

· RAM SETHU AS A BREAKWATER: Gulf of Mannar/ Palk Bay/ Palk Strait (GoMPBPS) is a major sedimentation sink for the east coast. While the causes for the sedimentation are Indian/ Sri Lankan rivers and long shore currents, what makes the area a sink is perhaps Ram Sethu. It acts as a natural breakwater and forces ocean currents the longer way around Sri Lanka. By that token, Ram Sethu has also made the marine biosphere possible. It is safe to conclude that Ram Sethu, acting as a breakwater, induces a certain stillness and calm in the Gulf of Mannar. More than three thousand six hundred species of plants and animals have flourished over the centuries due to this calm. It is composed of five species of endangered marine turtles, innumerable fish, mollusks and crustaceans. As opposed to the Palk Bay, the Gulf of Mannar is over three hundred meters deep in most places. Because of the unique circulation of ocean currents, the nutrients to be found here are exceptional. Should Ram Sethu be breached, the shallow silted waters of the Palk Bay will flow into the Gulf of Mannar, destroying its fragile ecosystem. On the other hand, breaching Ram Sethu would also impact the meadows of sea grass in the Palk Bay, which are home to a large number of fish species and the rare dugong or sea cow.

· MARINE LIFE: The EIA report by NEERI acknowledges the presence of corals, sea fans, sponges, pearl oysters, mollusks and sea cucumbers along the canal. The EIA report also states, "Due to dredging, the bottom flora and fauna on an area of about 6 km squared along the canal alignment in Adam's Bridge and about 16-17 km squared in Palk Bay/Palk Strait area will be lost permanently." The dredging activity will result in a permanent loss of these species, all of which are protected under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Corals are Schedule-I species, which means the Indian government accords it the same protected status as a tiger. It is surprising that this important aspect is being overlooked in this case.

· HUMAN LIVELIHOOD: According to the Coastal Action Network (a group representing fisher interests in Tamil Nadu), "one lakh families who will be immediately affected by the SSCP will incur losses of Rs 24,000 crores in terms of household assets and loss of livelihood assets," The project would affect at least six of Tamil Nadu's 13 coastal districts, hundreds of fishing villages and lakhs of fishermen. More than 138 villages and towns spread over five districts depend heavily on the fishery resources of the Gulf and depend directly on the biodiversity resources of the Biosphere reserve for their livelihood. The lives of the traditional fisher folk, who are already fighting a losing battle against the giant commercial fishing industry that has intruded into their territory with mechanized equipment, would be completely disrupted. On the Sri Lankan side fertile fishing grounds in Mannar, Puttlam, Chilaw, and Negombo would be totally destroyed and would have an impact not only on about 50,000 Sri Lankan fishermen, but others connected with the fishing industry, resulting in substantial unemployment or underemployment contributing to poverty. Sri Lanka will have to increase the amount of fish imported to the country at great expense.

· AFFECTS ON AGRICULTURE: In the Northern Province of Sri Lanka there is a major concern, as the dredging would have a catastrophic effect on the water table increasing the salinity content of the drinking and irrigational water. This would have a drastic economic impact, destroying the livelihood of many farmers. Both these negative impacts would have a serious effect on the production of food, and marine products, thereby affecting the GDP of the country as well as increasing the unemployment especially in related activities.

· PROJECT ECONOMICS: A major aim of the proposed project is to save ship time, fuel, transport costs and to make it attractive. Is the project really worth as much as its proponents claim? Critics say that it is unlikely to remain on budget, because the costs of dredging (its primary expense) have been grossly underestimated. The revenues, too, may be less than the scale that is being projected. Jacob John, an economist based in Bangalore, is the author of one such analysis. He estimates that financial incentive for foreign ships to use the canal will be far less than what has been suggested. The canal's limited depth will allow only ships with a draught (the distance from a ship's lowest point to the water's surface) of 10 meters or less to use it. This constraint is critical. Revenue from these ships was supposed to provide two-thirds of the canal's income. Also, if the industry pushes for deepening the canal it would be both economically and environmentally unviable.

· POTENTIAL DAMAGE DUE TO A MARINE ACCIDENT/GENERAL POLLUTION: Maritime accidents resulting in serious pollution is a distinct possibility and pose serious concern as they would be very detrimental to the beaches, including sea erosion and pollution. Creating shipping lanes will bring in well-known pollution into the area and mankind will loose forever a part of its precious and fragile environment.

· RAM SETHU AS A SACRED SYMBOL OF FAITH: The bridge is an ancient monument held sacred by millions of Hindus around the world, Destroying Ram Sethu is offensive to the religious sentiments of millions of Hindus worldwide who look upon Ram Sethu as a sacred symbol of their faith, heritage and history that can no longer be ignored. We wish to remind all, that structures like Taj Mahal in Agra and Kutub Minar in Delhi were saved due to public and judicial intervention from the threat of damage and destruction from the modern development initiatives like industrialization and Metro Rail project respectively. While the above two date back only to a few hundred years, Ram Sethu's historical antiquity goes back to several millennia.

· CULTURAL PERSPECTIVE: References to Kumari Kandam can be found in the Tamil literature. Inferring from these references suggest that extensive land areas occupied by the Tamils have been lost to the sea due to massive tidal waves or tsunami. Dr. Ranil Senanayake, a leading Scientist from Sri Lanka asks, "the question before us is this; " does the area that lies between India and Sri Lanka represent the drowned land of Kumari Kandam or is it merely a nondescript ocean bottom with a few sand mounds?'

In the light of the above concerns we urge the Supreme Court of India to immediately suspend the SSCP and set up an independent Commission that will oversee a second round of consultations. This is to ensure that views of important stakeholder groups not consulted in the first round are taken into account. This should include the oft-repeated warnings, highly critical reviews and troubling questions raised by world-renowned specialists, experts and religious leaders on the disastrous effects on the environment and livelihood of people in the region, which have not been included in the previous public consultations. We appeal to the Supreme Court Justice to look into his own heart and decide what it's worth that the Green Turtles and Dugongs of the Gulf of Mannar will always have one perfect home, where their newborns can enter the world as Mother Nature intended -- wild and free. The plight of our Planet MUST be taken into account for the future generations who shall inherit what's left of the environment. Is money and mindless greed going to be our generation's legacy? We pray not.


For more information contact:

USA: Dr. Kusum Vyas
Esha Vasyam on 713 876 5400 or

Europe: Nizaad Bissumbhar
Global Human Rights Defence on 31 616 494 311 or