A Project that was under Long Scrutiny - Sethu Samudram Ship Canal
Last year, on March 13, 2003, after a prolonged delay, the Central
headed by Vajpayee gave the green signal for the multi-crore Sethu
project, providing a navigational route through construction of a canal
the Palk Straits linking the East and West coasts. The then NDA
announced that "they were committed to undertaking the Sethu Samudram
and completing it in a time-bound manner.'' The project involves
deepening a canal near Rameswaram island to connect Palk Strait and the
Mannar to facilitate movement of ships. The draught would be about 7 m.
Everyone agrees that this project would provide better connectivity
eastern and western coasts without going around Sri Lanka, thereby
travel distance by about 350-400 nautical miles and 36 hours of
Sethu Samudram Canal project envisages widening and deepening about 1.2
distance between Talai Mannar and Rameshwaram thereby enabling big
boats to navigate through the Mannar gulf, Palk straits and Bay of
directly instead of circling around Sri Lanka as it happens at present.
idea is to construct a 300 $ million US dollar canal like the Suez or
after attendant dredging. The estimates carried out by our Central
show that even if 30 ships use the canal every day, the project will be
than viable. Even in the Tuticorin-Paradip stretch, the canal will
result in a
saving of 474 nautical miles. It is assessed that shipping lines can
anywhere between Rs. 4 lakhs to Rs. 8 lakhs in a trip and even if a
charged Rs. one lakh, it will be a viable venture.
The Sethu Samudram
would galvanize Indian shipping as ships from the West Coast and East
could move to and from their respective zones through the cheaper and
sea routes. This could lead to development of several Indian ports
Tuticorin, Nagapattinam and Rameshwaram. An adverse consequence for Sri
would be the de-valuation of Colombo, Galle and Trincomalee but this
off set by the development of Talai Mannar, Kankesanthurai and Point
Ironically this project is on the shelves for more than 140 years.
now it is under active scrutiny. One reason that was slowing down this
could be the security situation in Sri Lanka. The LTTE Sea Tigers
that triangular stretch of waters extending from Kalpitiya to
other reasons are technical feasibility, the concerns of fishermen in
region, and the concerns on environmental impact of this project.
is a threat that we may have to shift to excavation of rocks to deepen
in case if our recent decision to deepen the sea by excavation of sand
does not suffice. Also, there are fears that before the project is
the ships hitting against the rocks should be completely eliminated.
Recently, after the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government headed
Manmohan Singh took over, this project got further impetus. The Union
for Shipping, Road Transport and Highways, T.R. Baalu, informed that he
prepared to look at different methods of financing the Sethusamudram
that funds constraint does not stand in the way of the project being
He even went ahead and asked the Tuticorin port authorities to submit
application for environment clearance in June this year. This project
to cost more than Rs 1200 crore. It is contemplated that this project
up in phases and be taken up on a build-operate-transfer basis. Another
also being evaluated that a special purpose vehicle could be floated
ports on the east coast of India taking up to 51 per cent equity (as
benefit from the project) and the balance with private parties.
The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, engaged for
techno-economic study, has completed an environmental management program on
averting or minimizing the damages to marine wealth during the
of the project Twenty-one islands forming the National Marine Park and
facilitating fish breeding the canal region would not be affected as
route is set 6-21 km away. Further, deepening is needed only in shallow
regions. The project could be started by 2005. A 300-metre wide canal
dug after dredging of 32 million cubic metre sand (Reference: Press
by N.K. Raghupathy, Chairman, Tuticorin Port Trust).
In the next part of this article, we would review the entire
of this project. We would also critically review the fears expressed
merits of the implementation strategy that has been planned.