Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project

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Sethusamudram Shipping Channel Project
Type Government of India
Industry Canal Project
Founded February 1997
Headquarters Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
Area served Tamil Nadu, India
Website sethusamudram.gov.in

Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (Tamilசேதுக்கால்வாய் திட்டம், Cētukkālwāi Tiṭṭam ?) is a proposed project that would link Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar between Tamilnadu, India and Sri Lanka by creating a shipping channel through the shallow sea called Sethusamudram and through a chain of islands collectively called Ram Sethu , Ramar Palam (Tamil: இராமர் பாலம் Rāmar pālam), and similar names. This would provide a continuously navigable sea route in and around the Indian Peninsula.

The project involves digging a 44.9 nautical miles (51.7 mi; 83.2 km) long deepwater channel linking the shallow Palk Strait with the Gulf of Mannar. Conceived as early as 1860 by Alfred Dundas Taylor, it recently[when?] received approval of the Indian government, which plans to break the limestone shoals of Rama's Bridge as part of this project.

A few organisations are opposing damage to Adam's Bridge on religious, environmental and economical grounds. Many support the implementation of this project using one of five alternative alignments considered earlier without damaging the structure, which is sacred to Hindus.[1][2] The alignment is currently planned to be roughly in the middle of the straits to provide the shortest course and the course requiring least maintenance.

History[edit]

Because of its shallow waters, Sethusamudram—the sea separating Sri Lanka from India—presents a hindrance to navigation through the Palk Strait. Though trade across the India-Sri Lanka divide has been active since at least the first millennium BCE, it has been limited to small boats and dinghies. Larger oceangoing vessels from the West have had to navigate around Sri Lanka to reach India' eastern coast.[3] Eminent British geographer Major James Rennell surveyed the region in late 18th century; he suggested that a "navigable passage could be maintained by dredging the of Ramisseram [sic]". Little notice was given to his proposal, perhaps because it came from "so young and an unknown officer", and the idea was only revived 60 years later.[4] Efforts were made in 1838 to dredge the canal, but the passage did not remain navigable for any vessels except those with a shallow draft.[5]

The project was possibly conceived in 1860 by Commander A. D. Taylor of the Indian Marines,[citation needed] and has been reviewed many times without a decision being made. It has been part of the election manifestos of all political parties during elections. The Government of India appointed the Sethu Samudram Project Committee in 1955—headed by Dr. A. Ramasamy Mudaliar—which was charged with examining the desirability of the project. After evaluating the costs and benefits, this committee found the project feasible and viable. However it strongly recommended an overland passage instead of a channel cutting through Rama's Bridge. A land passage would have several advantages, such as avoiding shifting sandbanks and navigational hazards.[6] Several reviews of the proposals followed until the United Progressive Alliance Government of India headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced the inauguration of the project on 2 July 2005.[citation needed]

In 2008, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appointed Rajendra K. Pachauri as the head of a six-member committee to look at an alternative alignment avoiding the sensitive Ramar Sethu stretch.[7] In 2013, the committee released its report calling the project "unviable both from the economic as well as ecological angles". The Indian government rejected the committee's report and decided to go ahead with the project in its current form.[8]

Alignments suggested by earlier committees[edit]

Opposition parties are demanding the implementation of the Sethusamudram canal project using one of five alternative alignments considered by the government earlier without damaging Rama's Bridge. The Indian government has constituted nine committees before Independence and five committees after independence, most of which have suggested a land-based alignment across Rameswaram Island. None of them have suggested an alignment across Rama's Bridge.[9]
Year Report Name Suggested alignment route[10]
1861 Townshend proposal Deepen Pampan pass
1862 Parliamentary committee proposal Two miles east of Pamban across Rameswaram Island
1863 William Dennison proposal One mile east of Parliamentary proposal across Rameswaram Island
1871 Stoddart's Proposal Almost same place as Parliamentary proposal across Rameswaram
1872 Robertson proposal One mile from Pamban
1884 John code proposal Across Rameswaram Island
1903 Railway engineer proposal Across Rameswaram Island
1922 Robert Bristo proposal Across Rameswaram Island
1956 Sethusamudram project committee Mainland at Mandapam island
1967 Nagendra committee report Across Rameswaram Island
1981 Lakshminarayan committee report Across Dhanuskodi Island 1 km west of Ramar Temple
1996 Pallavan transport consultancy report Revalidated Lakshminaryan committee report. New alignment not suggested
1996 Tuticorin port trust report Across Pamban island East of Ramar temple
2005 Current alignment being implemented Mid ocean passage across Rama Setu

Issues[edit]

Economic[edit]

Some naval hydrographers and experts suggest that the project is unlikely to be financially viable or serve ships in any significant way. The time savings for ships sailing from Kanyakumari or Tuticorin is between 10 and 30 hours. Ships from destinations in the Middle East, Africa, Mauritius and Europe, would save an average of 8 hours using the canal. At the present tariff rates, ships from Africa and Europe will lose US$4,992 on every voyage because the savings in time for these ships are considerably lower than what is calculated in the DPR. This loss is significant because 65% of the canal's projected users are from Africa and Europe. If tariffs are lowered to a point where ships from Africa and Europe will not lose money from using the canal, the IRR of the project falls to 2.6%.[11] This is a level at which even public infrastructure projects are rejected by the government.

The canal is designed for ships of 30,000 metric tonnes and lighter. Most new ships weighing more than 60,000 tonnes and tankers weighing above 150,000 tonnes cannot use this canal.[12]

Costs of project[edit]

Axis Bank Ltd. was appointed "loan arranger" for the project in 2005.Since its inception in 2004, costs have risen to at least INR40 billion (US$650 million), interest rates have risen and old loan terms have lapsed. The loan sanctions, valid only up to INR24 billion (US$390 million), lapsed. To secure more money, Sethusamudram Corp. Ltd would have to draw up new reports, sit with parliamentary committees and receive fresh approval.[13] The project cost which originally were INR247 billion (US$4.0 billion) will grow by almost INR45 billion (US$730 million), a shipping ministry source said.[14]

Environmental impact[edit]

The project would disturb the ecological balance and destroy corals. The area is an important fishing ground for Tamil Nadu and the Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park is in the vicinity of the proposed project.[15] Opposition to the canal's planned route has come from local fishermen who are demanding alternative channels, which are available. They say the planned route would destroy marine life and corals and would impact the trade in conch shells that is worth almost INR1.5 billion (US$24 million) a year. Deposits of thorium—would be affected, which are too important for our nuclear fuel requirements.[15] Opponents also say that the dumping of dredged material from the Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar in deeper waters would "endanger those areas, which are rich reserves containing 400 endangered species, including whales, sea turtles, dugongs and dolphins".[16]

Tsunami expert Professor Tad Murty—who advised the Government of India on the tsunami warning system—has said that the planned route may result in increased impact from tsunami waves. He wrote, "During the Indian Ocean tsunami of 26 December 2004, the southern part of Kerala was generally spared from a major tsunami, mainly because the tsunami waves from Sumatra region travelling south of the Sri Lankan island, partially diffracted northward and affected the central part of the Kerala coast. Since the tsunami is a long gravity wave (similar to tides and storm surges) during the diffraction process, the rather wide turn it has to take spared the south Kerala coast. On the other hand, deepening the Sethu Canal might provide a more direct route for the tsunami and this could impact south Kerala." [15]

On 21 April 2010, the Supreme Court of India decided to delay the project to until an Environmental impact analysis on the feasibility of a route through Dhanuskodi instead of Rama's Bridge had been carried out.[17]

Religion[edit]

Opposition to the project also came from Hindus, who see the Rama Sethu or Rama’s Bridge as the remains of a bridge created by Lord Rama.[18]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.ivarta.com/columns/images/image_OL_070508_3.jpg 5 Alternative alignments without damaging Ramar bridge
  2. ^ http://www.nation.lk/2007/04/22/lankan.jpg
  3. ^ Francis, Jr., Peter (2002). Asia's Maritime Bead Trade: 300 B.C. to the Present. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-2332-X. 
  4. ^ Rodd, Rennell (April 1930). "Major James Rennell. Born 3 December 1742. Died 20 March 1830". The Geographical Journal (The Geographical Journal, Vol. 75, No. 4) 75 (4): 289–299. doi:10.2307/1784813. JSTOR 1784813. 
  5. ^ "Adam's bridge". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Retrieved 14 September 2007. 
  6. ^ "Use land based channel and do not cut through Ram bridge:Sethu samudram project committee report to Union Government". 30 September 2007. Retrieved 15 October 2007. "In these circumstances we have no doubt, whatever that the junction between the two sea should be effected by a Canal; and the idea of cutting a passage in the sea through Ram’s Bridge should be abandoned." 
  7. ^ Pachauri to head six-member experts committee
  8. ^ Singh, Gyanant (23 February 2013). "Centre junks Pachauri report, will go ahead with Setusamudram project". India Today.in (Living Media India Limited). Retrieved 10 October 2013. 
  9. ^ "Most of the earlier committees have suggested land based passages across Rameswaram Island". 16 October 2007. Archived from the original on 14 October 2007. Retrieved 16 October 2007. 
  10. ^ http://sethusamudram.gov.in/History.asp "Most of the earlier alignments suggested were land based channel"- Retrieved from Government Website on Setusamudram Canal
  11. ^ John, Jacob (21 July 2007). "Sethusamudram Canal: An Expensive Voyage?" (pdf). Economic and Political Weekly. pp. 2993–2996. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 9 October 2013. 
  12. ^ New generation ships cannot make use of this canal. It does not make nautical sense
  13. ^ Ram Setu project faces cash crunch- Hindustan Times
  14. ^ DNA India Sep-2009
  15. ^ a b c Vijay, Tarun (25 April 2007). "Why the Ram Setu must not be destroyed". Rediff.com. Retrieved 10 October 2013. 
  16. ^ Ramesh, Randeep (2 July 2005). "India's Suez canal opens up divide". The Guardian (Guardian News and Media Ltd.). Retrieved 16 October 2013. 
  17. ^ "Sethu order not for a year, SC to wait for panel report". indianexpress (New Delhi). 22 April 2010. Retrieved 2 October 2010. 
  18. ^ Mendis, Willie (18 January 2008). "India’s Sethu Canal Project :Que Sera Sera for Sri Lanka". Sri Lanka Guardian. Retrieved 16 October 2013. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 9°05′38″N 79°32′48″E / 9.09389°N 79.54667°E / 9.09389; 79.54667