National Seminar on
Ecological Balance and Sethusamudram Canal 1st October, 2004.
Address by Prof. S.Muthukumaran

At the outset let me congratulate the Alagappa University especially its Department of Oceanography for organizing this National Seminar. Our universities are being accused of sitting on ivory towers and working in isolation without any concern for the society which supports them. The fact that this university has organized a seminar on the Ecological Balance and the Sethusamudram Project soon after the Government of India announced its intention to go ahead to execute this project shows that this university is willing to do what all it can for fulfilling the aims and aspirations of the people of this region Therefore, this university and the organizers deserve all praise. At this point of time there are some who are raising certain anxiety about the effect of this project on the ecology of this region. Under these circumstances, it is appropriate that this university has given due importance to this aspect of the project in this seminar.

According to the available official records, the Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project was first envisaged in the year 1860 by Commander A.D. Taylor of the Indian Marines. It was investigated several times thereafter by Government of India. Mention may be made to the Reports by Sir Robert Britow, Harbour Engineer in 1921, Sir A.R. Mudaliar Committee in 1856, Dr. Rajendra Singh and Venkateswasrn in 1968, J.I. Koil Pillai in 1980 and Lakshmi Narayanan Committee in 1981. Tamil Nadu Government also got a report prepared in 1996 by the Pallavan Transport Consulting Services Our country boasts of a very long coast line (6582 kms.), but there is no continuous marinable route around the peninsula in our own territorial waters. When the Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project is completed, there will be a direct approach to the Tuticorin port from the ports of Tamil Nadu along the coastline without a necessirty to go around Srilanka. In the proposal as finalized for execution, there will be two legs of the canal. One will be the Bay of Bengal Channel traversing the Palk Bay; the second will be across the Adams’s Bridge; when completed ships up to a draft of 12.8m can pass through this canal.

The advantages are obvious. They include, enhancement of port connectivity in the region; boosting of earnings of foreign exchange due to increased activities in the ports of the region; minimizing of the distance between ports on the peninsular India, resultant economic development in southern Tamil Nadu, reduction in unemployment in the region, improvement of country’s security The fears that are expressed include the following: damage to the environment and loss of livelihood of fishermen. It is to be pointed out that some experts are of the view that the execution of the project will lead to an increase in fishing activity and there will be larger catches in Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar. It goes without saying that changes in environment are bound to happen wherever there is activity.

In this connection, we have to consider the following: (1) Is it possible to maintain status quo in nature? (2) Was the coastline in this region remaining the same for several centuries? For both these questions, the answer is an emphatic no. Nature is always vibrant; everything in nature is constantly moving and changing. Therefore, when we talk about the preservation of the ecology, we do not mean a no change condition; but we mean that whenever there is a disturbance, nature is able to regain to a position near about the old position i.e., the environment does not get completely destroyed like a pasture land getting desertified. As long as life is sustained in the locality, perhaps with a different balance in the composition of the living beings, it should be considered that there is not any serious damage to the system. If there is life then changes are inevitable. We have to accept that changes are inevitable and there will be a succession of stable positions.

Secondly, sea level has been changing over the years thereby altering the coastline. There are several theories about sea level changes. Whichever theory is accepted it is clear the sea level has been rising or fluctuating for several thousand years in the past. The changes may be not less than 6 m in the past 6000 years. These sea level changes have resulted in changes in the coastline; with changes in coastline and sea level, the habitat of the marine life has changed and the compositions of the marine organisms have also changed. As a matter of fact in Tamil literature, this region of the sea is known as Todukadal meaning a sea that was dug. This would mean there might have been a time when this region was perhaps marshy due to lowering of the sea level. Then the Tamils of yester years must have dug the region to make way for the ships to navigate. Thus it is clear changes are taking place continuously in the region. Of course, the construction of the project may lead to a sudden change. In other words, construction of this project in a short period may have the same effect as that due to natural causes over a period of a few centuries. Experts are of the view that the changes may not lead to any permanent alteration in the marine life in the region. It is the duty of the scientists to explain to the common man the benefits of the project as well as the changes that it may bring about for life in this region. It is for the Government to assess the impact of the project on the economy and ecology and assure the people that the Government will make sure that the region will be benefited. I am quite sure this seminar which is timely will provide all the information that is necessary for the Government to take the message to the people and make them benefit and enjoy the prosperity associated with execution of this project.

Seminar on
Cost Effective Construction and Management 15.9.2008 Inaugural
Address Prof. S.Muthukumaran

I am indeed happy to associate myself with this seminar this morning, mainly because the first research project I did in the Public Works Department in 1953 was on ‘How to construct a dwelling in a budget of Rs. 1000’ The cost effectiveness is a concept with which I was associated soon after I joined the department in 1952. I am also happy that you have chosen a topic of relevance, as with increase in population and consequent increase in construction activities, cost becomes more important.

The broad components of construction project may be the following:

* Land * Structures * Roads * Other infrastructural facilities like schools, hospitals etc. and * Water supply and sanitary arrangements.

The cost of the construction project will be the sum total of the costs of all these components. However the concept of cost effectiveness of the project may embrace not only the initial cost of construction but also the cost of maintenance of the project while in operation.

As such the owner of the project may have his own perception of cost effectiveness. The perception may be one or more of the following:

• lowest construction cost • lowest operating and maintenance cost • longest life span • the greatest percentage return on the investment • the occupants or users are most productive and the like.

Therefore conceptually cost effectiveness may mean different things to different owners and it may not be possible to state and determine a truly cost effective structure or project. In general it may be said that the true cost effectiveness may be based on the initial cost as well as the cost of maintenance and the benefits that may accrue during the entire economic life period. Thus in a discussion on cost effectiveness the following may require consideration:

* land utilization * planning and management * design * construction techniques * economic life time * maintenance.

The foregoing items may also be expressed as:

• maximizing the usable built up space for given land area • minimizing the time of construction and maximizing the use of space created • adoption of economical structural systems, proper analysis and design of roads and other infrastructure • use of local materials, making the same available in time • the structure as a whole to be long lasting and • the project requiring least maintenance and operating expenditure such as dependence on natural lighting and aeration thus saving on lighting and air conditioning. There are also other benefits that cannot be quantified or expressed in monetary terms such as aesthetics, security, safety etc

Engineering Economy:

Most engineering projects can be carried out in more than one way. The economic study would therefore involve in estimating the differences in the economic results between the alternative options in executing the engineering project. The economic study may need the following steps:

• defining the objectives • identifying the different possible solutions to meet the stated objectives • estimating the cost of each alternative taking into consideration all aspects including the time involved in construction during which period there is no useful return from the investment.

Economy through Design:

Proper analysis and design of structures will result in economical structures by reducing the conservatism which exists in approximate methods. With the availability of computers and software tools for analysis, even complex structures can be analyzed accurately in less time. Rational design methods like limit state method of design will ensure that the capacity of the material is fully utilized with appropriate safety factors. Indian standard codes of practice are being periodically revised incorporating the latest knowledge for estimating loads and design methods. The use of these standards will not only ensure safety but also economy.

Economy through proper use of methods and construction techniques:

While selecting the materials for construction, preference should be given for use of locally available materials which will be economical when compared to materials brought from long distances, since transport cost is increasing day by day. Use of local materials will also make construction easier with local labour. Use of locally available industrial wastes like fly ash, blast furnace slag etc. in concrete will reduce cement consumption and also cost. High volume fly ash concrete is nowadays used in many places with up to 50 or 60 % replacement of cement.

Introduction of ready mixed concrete will result in cleaner construction sites and better quality besides being economical. Time is money. By adopting prefabrication techniques, construction time can be considerably reduced. Quality of construction can also be substantially improved.


Housing is one of the basic needs.In Tamil, it is said that the basic needs are unna unavum, uttukka uddaiyum, irrukka idamum. i.e. food for eating, clothes to wear, a place to live. Thus the quality of life is enhanced by the availability of adequate and appropriate living space. With increase in population the need for housing is increasing. The growth of cities is also faster than the growth of population as far as this country is concerned. As such with time, the shortage of housing is increasing. This situation calls for a construction revolution. Such a revolution may be made possible by prefabrication techniques.

In prefabrication the units of the structure are produced in controlled manner in a factory, transported to the work site and assembled. The advantages are speed, reduction in cost by disciplined use of materials, higher productivity, and good technical control, maintenance of quality, better design, cleaner site, and better working condition for the workmen and above all, construction can proceed without interruption irrespective of weather condition at site. The disadvantages are the precast concrete members may require larger quantity of steel to meet the stresses in transport and the free end conditions; care has to be taken in joining the components and the need for larger initial capital investment.

Concluding Remarks:

More recently there is a thinking on eco-friendly construction which will take into consideration energy and water efficiency, rain water harvesting, site ecology, provision of green areas, enhanced indoor air quality, effective waste disposal and recycling, keeping windows open at sunrise etc. During the course of the day, you will be hearing lectures from experts and have the opportunity to discuss on the various issues of cost effectiveness in planning and management, design techniques, construction techniques, construction materials, etc. I do hope you make the best use of the same. With these words, I have great pleasure in inaugurating this seminar and wish you all a fruitful day and a bright future.

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