Sethusamudram – A typical Indian development project

The Sethusamudram (bridge sea – for the transliterators) project has the classic development plot lines that I’ve seen play out many times in India. Here’s a rationale from the official site…

Currently the ships coming from the west coast of India and other western countries with destination in the east coast of India and also in Bangladesh, China etc have to navigate around Srilankan coast. The existing water way is shallow and not sufficient for the movement of ships. This is due to the presence of a shallow region known as Adam’s bridge, located southeast of Rameswaram near Pamban, which connects the Talimannar Coast of Srilanka

What? They are going to destroy the bridge that rama and the vanaras built? Look at that picture, (thanks Manitham), can’t you see all the “Vanaras” (this has always struck me as racist – folks showing up from the North and calling the darker skinned Southerners Monkeys! But that is a different rant) running across the very clearly delineated land bridge – It’s fascinating, almost makes me believe that the Ramayana happened as narrated!

Manitham has a good rundown of the project from an activist standpoint.

A few points

  • The secrecy and lack of transparency are classic government techniques to control the flow of information and discourse. Every government does it, and the Indian government is no exception.
  • Environmental Impact Assessments are bought and paid for by the funding agency, and are hence essentially unreliable and untrustworthy. I had first hand experience of this when I was a student at IIT Bombay 10 years back.
  • There is a lot of politics involved, the port of Tuthukudi (Tuticorin as the damn Brits say) in Tamil Nadu is a clear winner and Colombo in SriLanka stands to lose revenue. There is also a great deal of Tamil Pride involved
  • Read this excellent article from the climate.lk clearinghouse of articles : There is a security dimension here for India that may have been the actual motivation.
  • The area, due to its sheltering and shallow waters, has a lot of marine life. From a 2004 Deccan Herald Article

The series of meetings called by the Tuticorin Port Trust chairman in the coastal districts have turned out to be stormy with representatives of political parties shouting down objections from fishermen, who fear the loss of livelihood, and environmentalists who say the project threatens to destroy the Gulf of Mannar Marine Reserve. This reserve is one of India’s most biologically diverse coastal regions.
Over 3,600 species of plants and animals are found here. It is the first marine biosphere reserve in the South and South-East Asia and is believed to have the highest concentration of seagrass species along India’s coast. It is also among the largest remaining feeding grounds for the globally endangered species dugong. Five different species of endangered marine turtles, innumerable fish, molluscs and crustaceans are also found here. The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), the largest NGO working in the field of bio-diversity and environmental conservation, has said the rapid Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report prepared by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) is insufficient and a detailed study should be conducted in all seasons for at least a year.

  • The EIA actually says that since the seaway is 20 km away from the reserve, there will be no effect on the reserve, um, that seems highly unlikely to me…
  • The other major dimension is the usual utter lack of care for the people displaced. previous instances like the Sardar Sarovar project indicate that there will be no fair compensation for the displaced people, or for lost livelihood, which I guess is perfectly fine because it serves the greater good of the country?

Most of these big projects have resulted in overstated gains, understated losses, and huge wastes of taxpayer money. I don’t trust this to be any different. The facts look fudged, the project seems unnecessary (where’s my tamil pride?) and the effect on the wildlife and the crazy complex current system around Sri Lanka may change significantly leading to unforseen micro climate effects.

Two thumbs down…

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