Setu channel: project hoax, project disaster

Sethusamudram Channel Project: a project hoax or a project disaster?  

“Jananee janmabhoomis’ca svargaadapi gareeyasi”, said Sri Rama. Let us not be a party to a project hoax and a project disaster of incalculable proportions putting the nation, the janmabhoomi coastline at risk. This janmabhoomi which is greater than svarga, has to be protected, together with Rama Setu which has saved the coastline of Bharatam from the ravages of the last tsunami of Dec. 26, 2004.

“The difference in time taken to reach Tuiticorin from Kolkata, circumnavigating Sri Lanka and navigating through the SSCP at speeds of 12 and 6 knots will be only = 1.75 hours.” 

Thanks to Capt. Balakrishnan for this insight. See his e-part essay mirrored at

Will the merchant navy be excited about this project and the hazardous channel passage cut through Rama Setu? Why not choose an alignment through Dhanushkodi which will reduce the distance by 39 nautical miles and hence, save an additional six hours (approx.) to justify the pilotage charges to be paid to be tugged or piloted through the channel? 

URLs are also provided for reasons why this is also a Project disaster by Preeti Sharma. 

This is a project which should be subjected to an immediate review and audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India and by a Parliamentary Inquiry Committee, before further work is progressed. Cut the losses. 

S. Kalyanaraman, Ph.D., Former Sr. Exec., Asian Development Bank, Former Member, Indian Railway Accounts Service, Director, Sarasvati Research Centre, Chennai 600015  

27 May 2007 

SSCP – Suppressed marine, maritime, nautical aspects

V SUNDARAM (24 to 26 May, 2007, Newstoday)       

It is reliably understood that after the Writ Petition of Dr Subramanian Swamy against the destruction of Rama Setu Bridge was admitted by the Madras High Court on 15 May 2007, Dr Manmohan Singh advised Shipping Minister T R Baalu to take particular care to see that Rama Setu Bridge is not destroyed till the disposal of the case. T R Baalu is treating the Prime Minister with supreme contempt. In so far as he is concerned, he takes orders only from Sonia Gandhi and Karunanidhi. The whole of India knows that Sonia Gandhi is not only a non-Hindu but also a sworn anti-Hindu. Karunanidhi is a known anti-Hindu. Both Sonia Gandhi and Karunanidhi are conspiring to destroy the Rama Setu Bridge by hook or by crook using T R Baalu as their hatchet man for that dastardly operation. It is not therefore surprising that T R Baalu backed up by the combined might of Sonia Gandhi and Karunanidhi is talking like Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) both in the Lok Sabha and outside when he says “There is no Ramar Bridge and if anyone comes up with scientific evidence I am ready to resign my post”.        

In these columns, I wrote a series of six articles in which I had given detailed historic, cartographic, epigraphic, numismatic and literary evidence to show the existence of Rama Setu Bridge for centuries and centuries. All these irrefutable facts seem to be irrelevant to T R Baalu who is functioning like Nazi Dictator, Adolf Hitler, ably assisted by his specially chosen Goebbels in the person of one Ragupathy, who is the Chairman of Tuticorin Port Trust. Both of them are guilty of deliberately misleading the nation on the vital aspect and dimension of the NAUTICAL ECONOMICS of Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (SSCP). In uttering unabashed falsehood in this context, T R Baalu seems to derive his inspiration from Adolf Hitler’s words: “What luck for rulers that men do not think. The great masses of the people… will more easily fall victims to a great lie than to a small one. By the skilful and sustained use of propaganda, one can make a people see even heaven as hell or an extremely wretched life as paradise. ” T R Baalu is guilty of gigantic falsehood and he vaingloriously thinks that he can cover it up under the barrage of his misleading propaganda.        

Ever since I started exposing the Himalyan fraud relating to the SSCP, I have been in touch with several Naval Officers from the Indian Navy and also Marine Officers from the Merchant Navy in order to understand in depth the Marine and Nautical details and aspects of SSCP in all its repercussions and ramifications. In particular, I wish to acknowledge the great help I have received in studying this dimension from Captain H.Balakrishnan, a brilliant retired Officer from the India Navy. He is an alumni of the National Defence Academy, Kharakvasla. He was commissioned in the ‘Executive Branch’ of the Indian Navy on 1 Jan 1969.  
As a specialist in Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), he was the first officer of the Navy, along with two other colleagues, to have been selected by the Navy to undergo the specialisation at the then ‘U.S.S.R NAVAL WAR ACADEMY’-Leningrad (now re-christened as St. Petersburg) in 1971-’72.He graduated in his specialisation course with ‘Distinction’. During the 1971 Operations, his ship, INS Tir, was the first to establish a wartime patrol off Chittagong, in March 1971. In 1985, he became the ‘first’ officer in the Indian Navy to assume command of the guided missile frigate, INS Trishul, in the rank of a ‘Commander’, taking over the frigate from the command of a ‘Captain’ (higher in rank to a Commander).        

He has served as the Command Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer, at the HQ. Western Naval Command, Mumbai as also the Command Operations and Plans Officer, HQ. Southern Naval Command, Kochi. He has also commanded the ‘Anti-Submarine Warfare School’ at Kochi, which trains the specialist ASW officers and sailors for the Navy. Between 1991-2001, he has sailed the Bay of Bengal as a ‘Master Mariner’ in the Merchant Navy. His knowledge of sea and sailing conditions in the Palk Strait and Mannar Bay area is indeed formidable.  I have had detailed discussions with Captain H Balakrishnan on the Marine and Nautical aspects of SSCP. I am presenting some bare facts below based upon his article “Setusamudram Shipping Channel Project (SSCP) – A Mariner’s Perspective”.        1. The total length of the SSCP in the Palk Bay is 152.2 Kms. It is divided into three legs. The Southern leg in the Adam’s Bridge area is 20 Kms. The Northern leg in the Palk Strait area is 54.2 Kms. The Central portion is 78 Kms. Dredging is to be carried out in the Southern and Northern legs to maintain a dredged depth of 12 metres. This would facilitate a navigable channel for ships with a draught of upto 10.7 meters. The canal will be 300 meters wide.         2. The basic justification advanced in favour of the project is that it will reduce the sailing distance between Kolkata and Tuiticorin by 340 nautical miles and between Chennai and Tuiticorin by 434 nautical miles. This enables savings in fuel costs and sailing time, for ships plying between these ports.         3. The viability of the SSCP can be analysed under the following heads that have a bearing on shipping:         I. Environmental Factors         II. Security Implications         III. Navigational and Allied Factors        



The SSCP authorities have completely ignored the impact of this factor in their appraisal of the project. The India Meteorological Department has assigned the PalkBay area as a ‘High Risk Area’ for cyclonic activity. The cyclone season the Bay of Bengal is generally between Oct to Jan. It is interesting to note that the IMD’s records from 1891-2001, states that of the 452 cyclones that hit the Indian coastline, 256 were on the East coast. Mariners, in a lighter vein, often refer to the Tamil Nadu coast between Rameswaram and Cuddalore as the ‘cyclone coast’!! Of the 256 cyclones referred, 64 have crossed the Tamil Nadu coast in this period. Of these, 36 were ‘severe cyclones’ (winds in excess of 90 Kmph). More interesting, of these cyclones, SIX have crossed the Palk Bay, 14 have crossed the coast at Nagapattinam and THREE have crossed the Gulf of Mannar. All these cyclones can have a devastating consequence on the SSCP and shipping in the area.        

Here are a few examples of the devastating consequences of these cyclones:        

a) In Dec 1964, a cyclone washed away the Pamban Bridge.      b) In Dec 1973, FIVE metres high tidal waves hit the Palk Bay area the very same area where the SSCP is to be dredged!!    c) In Dec 1977/78, under the influence of a severe cyclonic storm that crossed the coast near Nagapattinam, 120 Kmph winds were recorded in the Palk Bay area.         d) In Nov/Dec 1997/98, an oil-drilling ship, anchored with SIX anchors in the Cauvery Basin, broke loose from her anchors and was washed ashore by a cyclone.         It will be clear from the foregoing facts that the Bay of Bengal cyclones pose a ‘clear, live and present danger’ to ‘Safety of Lives at Sea’ (SOLAS). And, the SSCP is sought to be created in a ‘cyclone danger area’ in an audacious manner by T R Baalu and Co.         B. SILTATION         Allied to the cyclonic activity in the area, is the problem of siltation leading to a loss of sea depth. Scientists have concluded that the Palk Bay area is one of the FIVE areas, off the Indian coast, where the onslaught of siltation takes place regularly. Some of their calculations have indicated a loss in sea depth of about 1 cms every year. It is pertinent to state that TWO of the LEGS of the SSCP, where dredging is to be undertaken, happen to cross two such micro regions where high siltation takes place. This fact of Siltation has been deliberately kept out of feasibility analysis.         Captain H Balakrishnan rightly concludes: “…..The environmental factors of cyclonic activity and siltation rates in the Palk Bay area impinge on shipping safety. It has also to be noted that  maintenance dredging may have to be undertaken on a permanent perennial basis right through the year to maintain dredged depths. This could lead to substantially increasing the costs of the SSCP.”         II. SECURITY IMPLICATIONS         A. The SSCP has completely overlooked the Security Implications arising from the Global Scene on Maritime Terrorism. While terrorist attacks are predominantly land based, non-state actors have also sought to exploit vulnerabilities in shipping, ports and the container supply chains in Asia, Middle- East, Europe and North America. The list of foiled, failed and successful attempts in maritime-related terrorism over the past decade is significant. Yet, there is a tendency to overlook or downplay what has happened, and thus ignore the possibility of further trouble. It is clear that terrorists can see the potential of using the maritime trading system and its land links in the container supply chain to conceal weapons or agents for attack purposes.         Captain H Balakrishnan cites the following two recent examples of terrorist attacks on naval warships to illustrate this point:         1) Attack on the U.S.S. Cole. In Oct 2000, Al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen, packed a small boat with explosives and rammed the same onto the U.S. Navy destroyer, U.S.S. Cole, while the ship was in harbour. The blast left a gaping hole on the side of the destroyer and the cost of repairs amounted to USD 250 million. The blast killed 17 U.S. Naval sailors and, wounded another 40 seamen.         2) Missile attack on Israeli Naval Ships. On 14 July 2006, two days after hostilities between Israel and the Hezbollah commenced, the latter fired TWO, C-802 radar guided cruise missiles from ashore in Lebanon, at Israeli naval vessels patrolling off the Lebanese coast. One missile seriously damaged an Israeli naval corvette. The second missile narrowly missed another corvette. Instead it hit a Cambodian registered merchant vessel, sinking it with eleven men on board. Though I am a lover of military history, I have never worked in the armed forces. Unlike the Congress Ministers in the UPA Government who have contempt for the armed forces and their families, I have an ingrained sense of deep veneration bordering on reverence for the unknown soldiers, air men and sea men who guard the frontiers of India, ever prepared to lay down their lives for the survival of our nation and our disgraceful, ignorant, indolent and above all insolent Cabinet Ministers in New Delhi. I am presenting the following Marine, Maritime and Nautical facts after a long and exhilarating discussion with Captain H Balakrishnan who is an audacious naval strategist with rich and varied experience of service in the Indian Navy. Fiercely independent and courageous in thought, he is also brutally candid in discussion.        

The LTTE Factor        

He educated me about why and how LTTE would be the only direct and indirect beneficiaries of the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (SSCP)! All the Dravidian Parties (excepting perhaps the AIADMK) are open supporters of LTTE. I am not therefore surprised that T.R.Balu is just not worried about the following threats to national security. To quote the exact words of Captain H Balakrishnan: The LTTE factor has a direct bearing on the safety of shipping navigating through the SSCP. The LTTE has control over most of North Sri Lanka coastal region and the seas contiguous to it. The Sea Tigers, the naval arm of the LTTE, have displayed considerable ingenuity and daring in sea borne insurgency. They have carried out numerous daring attacks on Sri Lankan naval ships, and have not hesitated in resorting to suicide missions. It is pertinent to note that the SSCP is a ‘next-door-neighbour’ in the area of operations of the Sea Tigers!! Finally the most disturbing fact relates to the new addition to the LTTE’s fighting capability i.e. its ‘Air Arm’. They have to date carried out THREE daring aerial ‘night attacks’ on Sri Lankan assets. This factor adds a new dimension to the threat perception along the SSCP. Reports also indicate that the flying training for the LTTE’s pilots was carried out by hired mercenaries from South Africa. All the air attacks on Sri Lankan assets to date have been at night, indicating a high degree of proficiency. The SSCP falls within the radius of operation of these aircraft!! ” To effete, cowardly and lurking non-men like T R Baalu, the poor and destitute Brahmin Priests of Tamil Nadu going about their grind of daily chores on a bicycle, bare-bodied and wearing their sacred thread, perhaps pose a greater threat to our national security than Islamic or LTTE terrorists!      

According to Media Reports of 28 April 2007 in Chennai, the recent killings of the TN fishermen at sea were carried out by the LTTE Sea Tigers. The reason for the killings, attributed to LTTE sources, was that these fishermen were ‘spying’ on the LTTE’s activities at sea!! If that be the case, the possibility of the LTTE advancing the same argument for attacking ships navigating through the SSCP cannot be ruled out. The consequences of a ship sinking in the canal could have a disastrous impact on the viability of the project itself. It would have a psychological bearing on the shipping industry which may then tend to avoid the SSCP and circumnavigate Sri Lanka in the larger interests of safety of men and material.   


The official website of the SSCP states: ‘Ships originating in the West of India and destined for Chennai, Ennore, Vishakapatnam, Paradeep, Haldia and Kolkata have to travel around the Sri Lankan coast resulting in increase of travel distance and time. Apart from this ships belonging to the Indian Navy and Cost Guard need also to traverse around Sri Lanka’.        

A. Navy and Coast Guard        

The Official SSCP Website statement about the Navy and the Coast Guard gives the misleading impression Naval/Coast Guard ships sail to and from either coast on a frequent basis. In reality this is not the case.        

The navy has been operating on a ‘Two Fleet’ concept for over three decades, to safeguard our maritime interests on the Eastern and Western seaboards. New induction ships are allotted to both fleets to maintain the required Force Levels on both coasts. Thus the requirement for ships to cross over to the other coast is more the exception than the rule. At the most, they may meet annually for a combined Fleet exercise rogramme.                                                         

To quote the sharp and succinct words of Captain H.Balakrishnan: ”Besides, peacetime sailings of the Fleet are to hone skill levels in battle-manoeuvres, missile and gun firings, submarine exercises, aircraft operations and underway re-fuelling exercise at sea. All these and other exercises are conducted in areas far removed from the coastal and international shipping lanes for obvious reasons. Under these circumstances and considering the security implications in the area contiguous to the SSCP, it is debatable whether a Fleet would prefer to navigate through the SSCP. Also, if the Fleet happens to be a carrier battle group, availing the SSCP route can be almost ruled out, on account of various tactical factors.”     

These known facts have been completely suppressed by T.R.Balu and his officers making it clear that they have had no interaction whatsoever with responsible authorities in the India Navy before finalising the SSCP. Thus anyone can see that everything about SSCP seems to be spurious, surreptitious, scurrilous and scandalous. And yet it has the solid support of the Prime Minister and his Council of impotent and irresponsible Ministers!        

B. Mercantile Marine        

It must be borne in mind that the SSCP is not an ‘open seaway’. Thus for ships to safely traverse through the canal, it will be mandatory to embark a ‘pilot’. A ‘pilot’ is a mariner with experience pertaining to local conditions. He would normally board a vessel at either extremity of the canal and take the vessel safely to the other extremity before disembarking. It is not clear at the present juncture, whether vessels calling at the SSCP will have a ‘pilot’ boarding on arrival. Delays in the boarding of the ‘pilot’ will entail the vessel to anchor and await the ‘pilot’. Under adverse weather conditions this is not a comforting thought to a mariner. Besides, during cyclonic weather, sea conditions may preclude the embarkation of a ‘pilot’. What does the vessel then do?        

All the available Official Source Literature on the SSCP indicates that only vessels upto 32,000 DWT can navigate through the canal. However, in the current global shipping scenario, to reduce the operating costs and cater to the enormous growth in shipping needs, established trends are towards operating vessels of 60,000 DWT and above. This trend is likely to grow further in future, resulting in vessels of larger tonnage. All the big ships with more than 100,000 DWT now going on the passage along the international shipping lane from South of Sri Lanka to South of the Great Nicobar Island will prove this point. None of these large vessels can avail of the restricted facility of the SSCP.        

Thus in overall effect the small and medium coal carrying bulk carriers on charter to the TNEB, will be the only ships that would be able to use the SSCP on a regular basis. These vessels load coal at Haldia/ Paradeep/ Vishakapatnam and discharge the same at Chennai and Tuiticorin for the Thermal Power Plants. Besides, some smaller container feeder vessels from Colombo and bound for Chennai could also use the SSCP.        

After a detailed analysis- both inductive and deductive- Mr K S Ramakrishnan IAS (Retd) former Deputy Chairman of Chennai Port Trust and former Managing Director of the Poompuhar Shipping Corporation, has made it abundantly clear that the pilotage cost of navigating through the SSCP and certain other allied factors could make the SSCP totally unattractive and therefore commercially unacceptable to the shipping industry. It is his opinion that the actual use of the SSCP maybe substantially lower than the projected figure of 3417 vessels by 2010 and 7141 vessels by 2025. Finally he has summed up by saying: ”The two statements that the ships using the canal will save money and that the project will be a financially viable undertaking are therefore mutually contradictory and cannot have simultaneous validity”.        

I have had a detailed discussion with George Gomez, Coordinator of the Tamilnadu Manual Workers’ Union in Tuticorin. He is a marine man with several decades of experience in the shipping industry. According to him the official cost estimates of SSCP to the tune of Rupees 2400 Crores are totally wrong and unrealistic. The Project cost will definitely work out to more than Rs 3000 crores. To quote his own words: SSCP will be a ‘sick unit’ right from the start as the money invested will never get recovered. I don’t think any container ship will use the canal. Major container operators deploying mother-vessels, will never think of using the SSCP. The difference in time between ships using the canal and those going around Sri Lanka will only be a few hours. Ships would not be able to cruise fast in the canal because they will have to be piloted. Unavoidable pilotage means unforeseen contingencies and uncertainties involving continuous and unanticipated costs. Finally the most disastrous and deliberately suppressed fact about SSCP is that the canal will have to be dredged continuously leading to ever recurring and ever rising costs       

In the light of the foregoing analysis, it is debatable whether the investments made in the construction of the canal are justified from the security, environment or economic standpoints. The old adage ‘Haste Makes Waste’ readily comes to mind in the case of the SSCP. I cannot help concluding that T R Baalu rationally starves his conscience when he irrationally thrives in State! If it falls to me to start a fight to cut out the cancer of bent and twisted pseudo-secular journalism in our country with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of DHARMA routed in ancient Hindu Heritage, so be it. The greatest test of courage I can conceive is to speak the truth through the mass media. I have mow come to understand that no responsible citizen of India can ever offend T.R.Balu by telling him the truth. His orchestrated and pre-acted falsehoods, running counter to brutal facts and solid terrestrial reality, are constantly dictated not by his commitment to the public interest but by his undeclared passion for maximising his private interest at the cost of the nation. His fraudulent Dravidian political fiction ludicrously lags after truth; his hourly and daily political invention is unfruitful, and his fertile and corrupt imagination, shows up cold and barren. In working out the Maritime and Nautical Economics of the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (SSCP) his motto seems to be: ”Give me a grain of cosmetic half truth and I will mix it up with a great mass of Dravidian falsehood so that no chemist will ever be able to separate them.” I would like to give a reply to him suitably adapting the words of Harry S Truman (1884-1972): ”I will never give you hell. I will just tell the truth and you will think it is hell”. I derive my strength from the age old English Proverb One man plus the truth makes a majority. I will stop telling the truth about the SSCP only when T.R.Balu stops telling lies to our nation with magisterial authority about the SSCP. The whole of India knows that he never fumbles or stumbles over his untruth or falsehood.        

Having set this public stage let me now present bare facts about the following aspects of SSCP:        

A. Sethusamudram time and space calculations and pilotage rates.        

B. Navigating around Sri Lanka and navigating through SSCP – a distance/cost analysis.        

C. Passages from Kolkata/Chennai to Tuiticorin- a distance/cost analysis.        

The data and facts I am presenting below have been assiduously collected and analysed by my friend Captain H Balakrishnan, formerly a distinguished Officer of the Indian Navy. I can testify to their authenticity and accuracy in any Court of Law in India and abroad.        

I. DISTANCES (in nautical miles- nm) – AROUND
        1. KOLKATA TO TUITICORIN = 1227 nm         2. CHENNAI TO TUITICORIN = 750 nm         (NB: Distances taken from Admiralty Distance Tables)        

II. DISTANCES- KOLKATA-SSCP-TUTICORIN         3. Kolkata to Palk Straits = 969 nm         4. SSCP length (152.2 KMS) = 84 nm         5. SSCP to Tuiticorin =45nm         6. Total Distance = (3) + (4) + (5) = 1098 nm        


7. Chennai to Palk Straits = 180 nm         8. SSCP length (152.2 KMS) = 84 nm         9. SSCP to Tuiticorin = 45 nm         10. Total Distance = (7) + (8) + (9) = 309 nm        


11. @ 12 knots speed = 1227/12 = 102.25 hours        


12. Kolkata to Palk Straits         @ 12 knots speed =969/12 = 80.75 hours        

13. SSCP         @ 6 knots speed = 84/6 = 14 hours        

14. SSCP to Tuiticorin         @ 12 knots speed = 45/12 = 3.75 hours         15. Total time taken         @ 12 knots and 6 knots = 80.75+14+3.75 = 98.5 hours        


16. In a similar manner, the passage times from Chennai to Tuiticorin, around Sri Lanka and via the SSCP at speeds and combinations thereof, indicated above, the times taken are indicated below.         17. Around Sri Lanka @ 12 knots speed = 750/12 = 62.50 hours         18. Via the SSCP @ 12 and 6 knots combination= 15.0+14.0+3.75 = 32.5hours         (N.B. The foregoing distances at paras 3 to 19 above have been derived from actual plotting on navigational charts.)        

19. Additional Time For Passage Planning For purposes of embarkation/disembarkation of ‘Pilot’, manoeuvring of engines in the SSCP, as also for any delays in embarkation of ‘Pilot’- ADD = 2 hours (at the minimum) to all the passage times indicated above.        


20. From the foregoing calculations, the following main deductions can be arrived at:         (A) The difference in time taken to reach Tuiticorin from Kolkata, circumnavigating Sri Lanka and navigating through the SSCP at speeds of 12 and 6 knots will be only = 1.75 hours         (B) The main fact to be noted is that the Indian Flag coal carrying bulk-carriers plying the coastal route to Chennai/ Tuiticorin transit mostly at speeds of 12 to 13 knots. Therefore, time differences between circumnavigating Sri Lanka and transiting through theSethusamudram Canal are NOT going to be very marked or significant leading to cost advantages.         (C) While there is savings in distance navigating through the SSCP, this does not automatically translate into commensurate savings in time, on account of the ‘slow speeds’ required to navigate through the SSCP.         (D) It is mandatory for ships using the SSCP to embark a ‘pilot’. In the calculations above, at a conservative estimate, A Time 2 Hours has been added to passage time calculations. Under actual conditions, this time may be more than the 2 hours. All the major ports of India suffer from a shortage of ‘pilots’. Therefore, the SSCP is also likely to suffer from this prevailing malaise. It should therefore be appreciated that vessels arriving at the ‘pilot boarding grounds’ at the SSCP may have to anchor and await ‘pilot boarding’. Viewed in this light, it would further tend reduce the difference in time between circumnavigating Sri Lanka and using the SSCP.         (E) The ‘pilotage rates’ that are going to be charged for availing of the Sethusamudram Canal are not known at present. However, this is the only recourse available to recover the ‘capital costs’ involved in the making of the ‘Sethusamudram Canal’. It is therefore appreciated that the ‘pilotage rates’ for navigating through the Sethusamudram Canal might not prove to be competitive for the shipping industry.         (F) Navigating through the Sethusamudram
Canal, does reduce the distances between Kolkata/Chennai and Tuiticorin. This will reduce fuel costs. However, this advantage will be offset by anticipated ‘high pilotage rates’ and ‘time delays’ in embarking ‘pilot’. 

21. To conclude, the foregoing shipping and nautical calculations, based upon first principles, clearly highlight the total unviability of the SSCP, from the shipping standpoint.


I appeal to the Comptroller and auditor General of India to take note on this point and prevent the national disaster of fruitless and misdirected public expenditure.        

After my detailed discussion with Captain H.Balakrishnan the following disturbing facts about the commercial non-feasibility of SSCP have emerged. The official project paper of the SSCP states that the estimated investment of Rs. 2400 crores will ” earn an operating profit from its very FIRST YEAR of operation and that the capital will be recovered with 9 per cent interest WITHIN THE FIRST 25 YEARS after which THERE WILL BE A MAMOTH PROFIT GENERATION in the next 25 years” (REF: THE HINDU- OPEN PAGE- 21 DEC 2004- ”SETHUSAMUDRAM- WILL THE SHIPS USE IT”- MR. K.S. Ramakrishnan, former Dy Chairman, Chennai Port Trust and former MD, Poompuhar Shipping Corporation, Chennai).        

The major contributor to the earnings of the SSCP will be the ships that navigate through the canal. According to the consultants for the SSCP, the number of ships that are expected to navigate through the SSC is 3055 in 2008 and 7141 in 2025. This is a deliberately inflated figure to meet the commercial and political (wholly private!!) ambitions of T.R.Balu. I hope the Comptroller and Auditor General of India would take due note of this obvious fact. 

        We can predict with a reasonable accuracy the number of coal carrying bulk-carriers that will navigate through the SSC. These vessels carry thermal coal from Haldia/Paradeep/Vizag to Chennai/Tuiticorin to cater to the requirements of the Thermal Power Plants located at these ports. Based upon annual requirement of Coal Ships for Tuiticorin Thermal Power Plant, not more than 215 ships will be required per annum to meet the annual coal requirements of Tuticorin Thermal Plant.        

Apart from these 215 coal ships, not more than 200 other ships can be expected to go through SSCP for meeting the petrol requirements of Tuticorin and its hinterland. Even this is an optimistic estimate. Thus at the most, it may be possible that 1000 vessels may use the SSC annually and even this optimistic figure may not be realized, and is nowhere near the projected figure of 3055 vessels in 2008. This is on account of the fact that global shipping trends are towards larger vessels of 60,000 DWT and above, and the SSC being restricted to vessels of 30,000 DWT- 34,000 DWT, with a draught limitation of 10.7 Metres.        

The most devastating conclusion reached by Captain H.Balakrishnan relates to the comparative ananlysis of the cost benefit that would accrue to a shipping company by circumnavigating Sri Lanka on the one hand and transiting through the SSCP on the other.Captain H.Balakrishnan’s calculations, after taking into account the voyage fuel costs and pilotage rates for the SSCP, MAKE FOR “STUNNING READING”:
        (A)  Kolkata to Tuticorin around Sri Lanka / via SSCP.  It is
MORE COST EFFECTIVE to CIRCUMNAVIGATE Sri Lanka than routing through the SSCP. The total cost of operation from Calcutta to Tuticorin by circumnavigating Sri Lanka will be Rs. 19,49,925.00 (Rupees NINETEEN LAKHS, FORTY NINE THOUSAND, NINE HUNDRED AND TWENT FIVE ONLY). 

The total cost of operation from Calcutta to Tuticorin through the SSCP will  be Rs. 19,51,126.00 (Rupees NINETEEN LAKHS, FIFTY ONE THOUSAND, ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY SIX ONLY ).
        (B) Chennai to Tuticorin around Sri Lanka / via SSCP.  It is
MORE COST EFFECTIVE to CIRCUMNAVIGATE Sri Lanka than routing through the SSCP. The total cost of operation from Chennai to Tuticorin by circumnavigating Sri Lanka will be Rs. 13,25,405.00 (Rupees THIRTEEN LAKHS, TWENTY FIVE THOUSAND, FOUR HUNDRED AND FIVE ONLY). The total cost of operation from Chennai to Tuticorin through the SSCP will be Rs. 14,51,260.00 (Rupees FOURTEEN LAKHS, FIFTYONE THOUSAND, TWO HUNDRED AND SIXTY ONLY).        

Against this factual and mathematical background, I fully endorse the Sage-like conclusion of Captain H.Balakrishnan ”The Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (SSCP) just does not make sound ‘nautical sense”.

To ignorant and boorish Cabinet Ministers in New Delhi, the mathematical calculations of Captain H.Balakrishnan may be of no relevance. To such arrogant men dressed in brief authority, I would love to quote the following words of Bertrand Russell (1872-1970): “Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty – a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show.”


See commentary on Project Diaster: A report in 6 parts by Preeti Sharma, correspondent of (18 May, 2007) (16 May, 2007) (14 May, 2007) (12 May, 2007) (10 May, 2007) (8 May, 2007)

See also:

NEERI accepts its own Report and conducts EIA, farce of public hearings



Since 1955, Indian experts have revisited the ‘Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project’ (SSCP), first proposed 1860 by Commander A. D. Taylor, which would let large ships reliably pass during all weather conditions through Adam’s Bridge, a barrier of shingle that separates the Palk Bay from the Gulf of Mannar. Sethusamudram Ship Channel Project (SSCP) is about developing an offshore shipping channel which is 274 km long passing through passing through the Gulf of Mannar, the Palk Strait and the Palk Bay. It involves dredging in an area 74km long, 300 metres wide and to a depth of 12 metres.            

It claims to cut short the distance (not time) for ships navigating between the west and east coasts of India, by avoiding the circumnavigation of Sri Lanka.  In the proposed route, ships would navigate through the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Bay and enter the Bay of Bengal directly, thereby reducing by about 500 km, the distance covered by ships travelling between India’s east and west coasts.   Project Proponent: The current project proponent is the Tuticorin Port Trust.  A Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) called the Sethusamudram Corporation Ltd (SCL) has been created for implementing the  project. Project Costs: Rs 2,427crore Project Location The Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar are considered to be among the world’s richest marine biological resources. The Gulf of Mannar has been chosen as a biosphere reserve primarily because of its biological and ecological uniqueness. The 10,500 sq km Gulf of Mannar (GoM) area, along which the canal is proposed, was notified as a Marine National Park in 1986.   The region has a distinctive socio-economic and cultural profile shaped by its geography.  It has 3,600 species of plants and animals (including the endangered mammals like dugong and five species of sea turtles), which make it
India’s biologically richest coastal regions. It is, of course, specially known for its corals, of which there are 117 species belonging to 37 genera. It is one of the richest and most productive fishing grounds with over 500,000 people depending on the resources for their livelihoods.


1. Disrupted Public Hearings The first set of public hearings was held between 7th to 16th September 2004 in the six districts. The Public hearings (especially in Pudukottai and Tuticorin districts) were unruly and did not allow for effective public participation. Many political party workers were present at the hearing and created pandemonium when views opposed to the project were expressed.  Hence the public hearing did not give scope for effective participation of local communities and environment groups. Groups from outside the districts (especially environment groups) were not allowed to speak and express their views or ask questions  2. Public hearing panellists not in accordance with the EIA notification     In Pudukotai and Ramanathapuram, they consisted of only the District Collector and a representative of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB). In a counter to a writ petition in the Madras High court, the proponent claimed “inability of panellists to attend would not render public hearings deficient”. The fact that the public hearings were ineffective is also validated by the fact that TNPCB issued a public notice stating that previous public hearings that were conducted were incomplete. The TNPCB proposed to hold the hearings again in all the six districts between 23rd to 30th November 2004.  The central objection to the earlier public hearings were that the EIA report prepared by the project authorities was only a Rapid EIA and contained inadequate information. Details of the Detailed Project Report and the Executive Summary were not available for reference. Essentially, the public was left with the same earlier inadequate documents and therefore their objections regarding the validity of the earlier hearings still remained. The public hearings were again ineffective and in two of the districts (Thiruvarur and Nagapattinam) could not completed again (as they were disrupted by political party representatives in favour of the project). They were proposed to be held again at a later date. (Ref: Amendment of 10th April 1997, Para 3 schedule IV) 3. Public Hearings without the Public- One month after the Tsunami  A fresh notice was issued by the TNPCB to hold public hearings on 28th January 2005 and 2nd February 2005 ( in Thiruvarur and Nagapattinam respectively), barely a month after the devastating tsunami. This despite the fact that it was repeatedly brought to the notice of the District collectors that the project affected people would not be able to participate in the public hearings as they were displaced by the tsunami and were in relief camps and were moving to temporary shelters. 4. Ministry violates it own guidelines In the “Explanatory Note Regarding The Impact Assessment Notification Dated 27th January, 1994a document issued by the MoEF, Point 5 states a No Objection Certificate from the concerned Pollution Control Board as a requisite document for according environmental clearance to the project. The TNPCB has not issued a No Objection Certificate and yet the Ministry of Environment and
Forest went ahead and issued the environmental clearance for the project on 30th March 2005 thus violating its own laws and guidelines.
 5 Inadequate and incomplete Environment Impact Assessment Report

i. Absence of a comprehensive EIA report

The explanatory note to the EIA notification states “As a Comprehensive EIA report will normally take at least for its preparation, project proponents may furnish Rapid EIA report to the IAA based on one season data. Comprehensive EIA report may be submitted later, if so asked for by the IAA. The requirement of EIA can be dispensed with by the IAA, in case of projects which are unlikely to cause significant impacts on the environment.” It is widely acknowledged among subject experts that a project of this type and scale requires a comprehensive EIA.   According to the MOEF EIA Manual, January 2001: “The difference between Comprehensive EIA and Rapid EIA is in the time-scale of the data supplied. Rapid EIA is for speedier appraisal process. While both types of EIA require inclusion/ coverage of all significant environmental impacts and their mitigation, Rapid EIA achieves this through the collection of ‘one season’ (other than monsoon) data only to reduce the time required.”   ii) Admission by NEERI in its own EIAThe EIA report submitted by NERRI for the Tuticorin Port Trust is actually a Rapid EIA and not a comprehensive one. The EIA report itself on page 1.14 in section 1.5.1 makes this admission and states “This rapid environment impact assessment study report is to be prepared incorporating available baseline data for the region, environmental impact statement based on identification, prediction and evaluation of impacts ranking of environmentally viable alternatives and environment management plan for acceptable route. The comprehensive EIA report will be prepared later based on the primary data collection for the region.” iii) Misleading Explanations of Comprehensive EIAThe proponent has been falsely stating at various forums that the same report is a Comprehensive EIA. In fact the proponent has been making misleading statements by way of explanation to project that the report is comprehensive. They have however, chosen to ignore the fundamental definition (from the MOEF EIA manual of the Comprehensive EIA – the collection of a full year’s primary data.) The proponent in the counter to the Writ Petition in the Chennai High Court stated that the term “rapid” in the report must be seen in the light of the sum and substance of the report which shows it was comprehensive and not a rapid EIA and also that “ the difference between a rapid and a comprehensive EIA is the time scale of data supplied, in this view, the report of EIA was not a rapid EIA as it took two years to complete.  In a letter to the Tuticorin Port Trust, dated 20th November 2004 the Director NEERI wrote that it had “ submitted details of the EIA report in 2004 and further updated it in August 2004 based on revised dredging material quantities in light of techno-economic feasibility report. Thus the words “rapid” appearing in the document be ignored”. In the same letter he further says that “the EIA report has addressed all environmental issues related to the project by collecting primary data including seasonal data variations in the region and the Environment Management Plan delineated in the report is based on the exercise identification, prediction and evaluation of impacts. Thus the report is detailed and comprehensive”!  In both these cases there is no mention of the word “primary data”. A comprehensive EIA should have primary data at least for one year. In addition, other secondary data may be used (which may be more than one year). Thus, time scale data may be 5 years, which is all secondary data, but the primary data in the report is three months and hence is only a rapid EIA. 

6. Withholding relevant documents and information

Documents referred to in the EIA report such as the Detailed Project Report (DPR) were not shared with the groups who had made requests for the same. First, request were made to the TNCPB who in return replied said that they did not have copies of the same and to request the project proponent for the same. Requests were made to the project proponents who till date have not furnished the same. Thus no informed discussion on Cost Benefit Analysis of the project could take place at the public hearing. 7. Withholding minutes of the public hearing The MoEF and the Gujarat High Court (Centre for social Justice Vs. Union of India, 2002) have made it clear that minutes of the public hearing should be made available to public. Despite repeated requests by Coastal Action Network and many other NGOs to the TNPCB, the proceedings of the public hearing have not been shared.  8. Major gaps in the EIA report   ·         The report is only a Rapid EIA and not Comprehensive EIA  as mandated by law.·         The EIA report ignores cyclone data of the past. The report makes no mention of the frequency of tropical cyclones in the Bay of Bengal, which amount to about 4-5 per year, a steadily increasing ·         The EIA report has not studied the sedimentation data and regimes in the region of the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar (a fact that was publicly acknowledged by the Director of NEERI). This in affect means that the potential impact on the fragile ecosystems of the Gulf of Mannar andPalk Bay, especially the coral reefs have been ignored and not studied as part of the EIA.·              Neither has the proponent nor have the consultants taken into account the impact of tsunamis on sedimentation flow /regimes, changes in the seabed, oil spills and impacts of tsunami related shipping disasters on this eco-region while preparing the Detailed Project Report, Techno-Economic Feasibility report and of course the EIA.·         All aspects of the project will need to re-evaluated and studied again. A Comprehensive EIA will need to be done taking into account the above gaps and public hearings will need to be reheld.


India’s ‘Panama canal’ is a disaster, warn ecologists

By Justin Huggler in Delhi

Published: 05 November 2005

For centuries, no ship has been able to pass between India and Sri Lanka. The way is blocked by a narrow, 18-mile chain of sand shoals. Known as Adam’s Bridge in the West, to devout Hindus it is Ram’s Bridge, built by the god Ram to get his army to Sri Lanka to rescue his bride Sita from the demon king Ravana.

But the Indian government is cutting a shipping route through the shoals in what it is already touting as “India’s Panama Canal”. The finished canal, 167km long and 300m wide, will shorten the sailing time of ships from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal by more than 30 hours.

But environmentalists warn that the £300m project will be an ecological disaster, destroying precious coral reefs, and starving the endangered dugong, or sea cow. Local fishermen are protesting too, saying the project will kill fish stocks.

“An old wish is finally fulfilled,” the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, said at a ceremony to begin the Sethusamudram canal project in July.

A canal has been dreamt about since British colonial times. Unlike the Suez and Panama canals, which involved cutting through solid land, the Sethusamudram canal is a massive dredging operation. Around Adam’s Bridge, the sea is shallow, varying from 10m deep to as little as 2.5m. India is using dredgers to cut a channel deep enough for ships.

The problem, Sanjeev Gopal of Greenpeace says, is the large amount of underwater sediment that will be disturbed by this dredging. He believes it will wreck coral reefs and affect the nearby Gulf of Mannar marine reserve. Home to more than 3,600 species, the Gulf of Mannar reserve has been designated as a world heritage site by Unesco.

Unlike a land canal, work on Sethusamudram will never stop. Underwater silting means the canal will have to be constantly dredged to keep it open. “[This] will spread the sediment far and wide,” Mr Gopal says. “It will eventually smother the coral reef systems, and if they are smothered the reefs will collapse.”

The Gulf of Mannar is renowned for its critically endangered dugongs. Mr Gopal says they too will be affected by Sethusamudram. “The sediment will make the water cloudy and prevent sunlight getting through,” he says. “Sunlight is essential to the sea grass which the dugongs feed off.”

As well as the dugongs, the Gulf of Mannar is home to sharks and sea snakes, and there have been sightings of humpback whales. Local environmental groups are mounting campaigns against the canal, but the Indian government insists Sethusamudram will not damage the marine life.

Sri Lankan environmentalists are furious that India did not even ask their government for its approval for a project that will have such a severe affect on Sri Lankan waters. But the Sri Lankan government, financially crippled by years of war with Tamil Tiger rebels, and coping with last year’s tsunami disaster, is in no mood to argue with its far more powerful neighbour.

So far, the only government opposition has come from the state government of Tamil Nadu, within India. Environmentalists insist Sethusamudram is not only an environmental disaster, but a white elephant as well.

“When you talk about Panama and Suez, you’re talking about saving 18 to 22 days of sailing,” says Mr Gopal. “Sethusamudram will save one and a half days at best. Once you add in the cost of pilotage, a lot of commercial ships aren’t going to use it.”

Cyclones, Tsunami and the Sethusamudram project

Union shipping and surface transport minister T R Baalu, touring the tsunami affected Tuticorin and Nagercoil coast of Tamil Nadu in the first week of January, told media persons the Sethusamudram ship canal project will save the coast from tsunamis.The foundation stone for this project, which envisages digging a 44.9 nautical-mile channel through the Rameswaram island, linking the Palk Strait with the heritage bio- reserve, the Gulf of Mannar at a present cost of Rs.20 billion, is to be laid soon.The channel is expected to save 402 nautical miles of journey between India’s west and east coasts. The minister told the media that tsunamis will not effect the Sethusamudram canal building.“There will be no let up in implementation of the Sethusamudram project”, Baalu said after inspecting the Tuticorin and Colachel ports and the Rameswaram  and Kanyakumari coastline last Sunday.He said, as part of the project, a sea wall, 3 to 4 ft high will be built along the Tuticorin coast to protect the area here.After six tsunamis hit India’s east coast on Dec 26 morning, environmentalist are, however, objecting to having such a project in this area, saying it will put more human lives and infrastructure in danger.The India Meteorological Department has assigned the Palk Bay area as a “high risk area” for volcanic and cyclonic activity.

Dutch shipping records of as old as 1627 tell of  “great storms that lashed the Coromandel coast, wrecking 200 vessels from Sao Tome (modern-day Chennai)” .

Member of the forum Doctors for Safe Environment, R Ramesh, says the Gulf of Mannar is an area where volcanic activities are very possible.

He cites studies by the international Indian Ocean Expedition of 1975 and a study by an underwater geologist G R K Murthy in 1994, to point out that these reports say, “magnetic and gravity data from the GoM floor” shows “a channel like feature about 12 to 20 km width in a broad trough on the ocean floor in this area, which is likely to be a result of shallow earthquake of less than 7 magnitude”.

The studies also report volcanic vents at 5 to 11 km depths, which show “presence of major tectonic structural features in the GoM floor”.

Sunday’s tsunamis that hit several Asian countries, was caused, experts say due to movement of the Indian sub-continental tectonic plate under the Burma plate.

Since Dec 26, as many as 100 aftershocks have hit the Andaman and Nicober group of islands, off this coast.

“To locate a shipping canal in an area which shows tectonic activity is not quite scientific”, Ramesh says.

The Palk Bay area is also one of the five major sediment sinks of India, the pit that holds drainings from major rives in the peninsula.

The IMD’s own records from 1891 to 2001 say out of the 452 storms that hit India, 256 hit the east coast.

South of 10 degree N, that is, the Nagapattinam coastline is “highly vulnerable”, most experts say.

In 1964, a storm in December washed away the Pamban bridge and a train full of people, mostly holiday makers.

In Nov 1966, a tidal bore battered Madras Port, which was again battered by Sunday’s tsunami.

In Dec 1973, five meter high tidal waves hit Palk Bay, through which the Sethu canal will be dredged. In 1977, Nagapattinam was hit by a cyclone. In 1978, Palk Bay was lashed by 120km speed winds.In Nov 1992, Tuticorin harbour was battered by high winds and waves.In 1993, as many as 111 people were killed on the Karaikal-Pondicherry coastline.In I994, again 304 people died and 100,000 huts were washed away when high winds and rough seas hit Chennai city.The Dec 26 tsunami has taken many more lives, the toll stands over 14,000.“It is obvious, all these years of disasters has not made any government take notice and look at what kind of development is required”, Ramesh says.

“ Even if a fraction of the money going into the Sethu project had been used to set up calamity warning centers along the east coast, thousands of lives could have been saved today “, he adds.  

Papri Sri Raman
January 9, 2005

It is strange indeed, that tsunami protection measures are NOT part of the Setusamudram Channel Project. Anyway, who cares?



3 Responses to Setu channel: project hoax, project disaster

  1. HoTuSd says:

    good job,
    really nice post


  2. Dr.Vijayalakshmi says:

    Accountability does not seem to be part of Administration.Therefore,politicians and bureaucrats and other vested interests are trying to ‘make hay while the sun shines’. But it is for the civilized society to demand that a strict Law should be in place,whereby misuse of public funds is a punishable offence. Every politician and bureaucrat handling public funds should have the consciousness that he is accountable for the money he is spending.Right now,the fear is not there, hence the mishandling and misuse.

  3. T.C.Govindan says:

    The basic consideration of any such project is the safety of the ship and its crew navigating through the canal. If this cannot be ensured the project will be a colossal waste. No safety measures can be provided to protect ships from cyclone, since it is a sea based canal. That is the reason Sri Ramaswamy Mudaliar ruled out a canal through sea in 1956 So no shipping company is expected to use this canal due to above mentioned reasons

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